Archive for Assemblage

Of Actor-Networks and Virtual Assemblages

Posted in Bergson, Deleuze, Philosophy and Science, Process Ontology with tags , , , on April 17, 2012 by immanentterrain2

In Reassembling the Social Bruno Latour, a sociologist of science, explains Actor-Network Theory which seeks to understand constitutive relationships between actors, both animate and inanimate, and the generative potential of those interactions. He writes “…network does not designate a thing out there that would have roughly the shape of interconnected points, much like a telephone, a freeway, or a sewage ‘network’… It qualifies its objectivity, that is, the ability of each actor to make other actors engage in unexpected relations.” (Latour, 129)

Latour’s social science includes some appropriations of Deleuzian thought.In his introduction to Reassembling the Social, he proposes to reinvent or redefine sociology not as the ‘science of the social’ but as the ‘tracing of associations’. The social in Latour’s estimation does not imply a thing among things, “like a black sheep among white sheep, but a type of connection between things that are generally understood as social”. (Latour, 5) The study of the social does not emphasize actors simply co-existing with other actors as much as processes of interactions. Deleuzian notions of the intensive, the virtual and even the ‘will to power’ covered in Deleuze’s monographs on Hume, Leibniz and Nietzsche, as well as A Thousand Plateaus, along with other readings for class encouraged me to attempt to understand Actor-Network Theory in terms of Deleuzian thought and/or vice versa. During the course of the semester, I have been trying to slowly tease out three related questions concerning these thinkers: 1) in what ways are the theories put forth by these two philosophers similar; 2) what exactly sets them apart? 3) What is the significance of this relationship?

As Latour discusses the nature of facts in a larger project of build upon thought common to the social sciences and discover new controversies as to what the universe is comprised of, he proposes a four-part process that should allow the unveiling of the construction of what he calls “scientific facts”– the last item of which is of interest in this discussion: it is now possible to determine the processes allowing for plural realities as well as those leading to stability, whereas before scientific facts were understood in a linear, hierarchical way. Virtual assemblages in Latour’s thinking are comprised of objects, ideas and beings aggregated relationships in a body of potential. (Latour, 119)

Here Latour understands the virtual and the idea of the assemblage in the same way Deleuze would, and though not lacking in ontological importance, Latour’s assemblage is more concerned with tracking and noting permutations of ontic qualities within an an assemblage than Deleuze. Latour goes on to say: “An entity gains in reality if it is associated with many others that are viewed as collaborating with it. It loses reality if, on the contrary, it has to shed associates or collaborators—animate and/or inanimate.” (Latour, 257) In my mind this fits with Deleuze’s idea of  a diverse assemblage of animate and inanimate relationships of a body’s existence. I understand this as the double articulation that Deleuze would claim is inherent to the reality of entities.

In A Thousand Plateaus—“10,000 B.C.: The Geology of Morals”, the authors describe the first articulation as a process that combines substances into forms—a type of self production or regulation of becomings imposed on substances. This articulation is “the plane of content“. The second articulation provides overcoding, unification and heirarchization” in the “plane of expression” which refers to the agency, potential and attributes that the new aggregated object expresses.

Central to Latour’s theory is the notion that the part and whole are always one in the same body, instead of existing and functioning as separate bodies, as classical sociology dictates. This theory echoes Bergson’s idea of the part’s relationship to the whole. “It is…the performance of the movements which follow in the movements which precede, a performance whereby the part virtually contains the whole, as when each note of a tune learned by heart seems to lean over the next to watch its execution.” (Bergson, 94) This understanding of the part and the whole central Latour’s work is prefigured by the sociological theories of  Gabriel Tarde, who Deleuze and Guattari refer to in the “Micropolitics and Segmentarity” of A Thousand Plateaus—

 [while] Durkheim’s preferred objects of study were the great collective representations, which are generally binary, resonant, and overcoded. Tarde countered that collective representations presuppose exactly what needs explaining, namely “the similarity of millions of people. That is why Tarde was interested in the world of detail, or of the infinitesimal: the little imitations, oppositions, and inventions constituting an entire realm of subrepresentative matter… at a deeper level, it has to do not with an individual but with a flow or a wave. What, according to Tarde, is a flow? It is belief or desire (the two aspects of every [social] assemblage); a flow is always of belief and desire. Beliefs and desires are the basis of every society, because they are flows and as such are ‘quantifiable’; they are veritable Social Quantities, whereas sensations are qualitative and representations are simple resultants. (Deleuze and Guattari, 218-219)

Latour’s ideas of actor networks do not only appear similar to particular notions of process, virtual and actual in the work of Deleuze, Bergson and Tarde, but also of Gilbert Simondon and his notion of working beyond ideas of the real and the possible. In addition, Simondon’s introduction to  of On the Mode of Existence of Technical Object proposes a study to promote awareness of the importance of technology and technological objects as mediators between man and nature, which is similar to Latour’s focus in Actor-Network Theory. Simondon further declares  in the essay that culture incorrectly ignores technics as an essential component of human understanding and reality by donning a “mask of facile humanism to bind us to a reality full of human striving and rich in natural forces.” (Simondon, 1)

However, Latour emphasizes that these unexpected relationships between bodies or “actors” are useful for the development of a social science that could be derived between the interaction of actors. He wants these processes to be understood in some way, at least to persist in describing what is happening in any given instant. His goal is to actualize the virtual while not denying the existence of this potential. “It is a if [he] is saying to actors: ‘We won’t try to discipline you, to make you fit into our categories; we will let you deploy your own worlds, and only later will we ask you to explain how you came about settling them’.” (Latour, 23) He asks qualitative questions to actualize the virtuality of an actor’s experience. While respecting the ontological potential, Latour’s intent is clearly epistemological, or to quantify qualitative relations.

This is where I understand the philosophy of these two thinkers to depart and where the significance lies.  Deleuze’s philosophy is unquestionably ontological. In his mind, everything is a process—much like in Latour’s theory, but he is not interested in documenting this process or understanding the specific levels of flows of potential within a body. He is interested in the idea that these potentials exist unseen, indiscernible, containing and contributing to endless possibility. Though he realizes the actual must exist at points, his interest is in the process of change—not in what can be described but in what remains indescribable.

B. Paris


Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Zone. 1990.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press. 1987

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford University Press. 2007.

Simondon, Gilbert. “Genesis of the Individual”. in Interpretations. ed. Crary and Kwinter. 1992.

Simondon, Gilbert. On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects. trans. Ninian Mellaphy. 1980.


Music Performance Tonight: Nate Wooley at ISSUE PROJECT ROOM

Posted in Art Exhibits, Deleuze, Deleuze and Guattari, Relational Aesthetics with tags , , , , , , , on March 11, 2011 by immanentterrain2

In what is certainly a deficiently late first blog post and an unfortunately late invitation, I wanted to write here to invite everyone in the class to a music event tonight, FRIDAY 3/11 at 8PM. Most importantly, IT’S FREE! It is an event that I hope to revisit and review again on this blog after my attendance, but I wanted to write first in regards to what I know, hope for, and expect from the performance:

Nate Wooley is a talented, avant-garde trumpet player with unlikely roots in a fishing town in the state of Oregon. Throughout his young career, Wooley has made a habit of working with many other talented musicians in creative ways. To that end, the trumpeter will be bringing together many musicians in an installment in the concert series/event/becoming(?) that he calls Seven Storey Mountain. In fact, I had the pleasure of meeting Wooley recently myself while making this…

I was quickly struck by Wooley’s premise for his performance, but I realized that I was even more struck by the idea of the concert following our discussion of Deleuze vis-a-vis contemporary music. As Prof S. I-G. mentioned, the merits of a specific artistic practice’s Deleuzian influence, association, or execution is somewhat reliant on a case-by-case analysis. While I have not heard nor read Wooley cite Deleuze specifically, I will nonetheless argue that Seven Storey Mountain ought be seriously considered.

As the organizing artist, Wooley himself embodies something of a multiplicity. That is, he has been labeled and played the style of jazz music, free jazz, improvisational, minimalist, reductionist, lowercase, et cetera. It is not that these labels have disappeared nor that Wooley has shirked them in favor of not being labeled at all. Instead, Wooley seems to revel in the timbre, dynamics, articulations, and intents of each aesthetic at different times. In this way, he is not one, but several trumpeters. In all cases, though, Wooley uses his trumpet in a non-traditional way, a method that ensures the instrument itself is denatured and deterritorialized in favor of what it could be and the affective relations he and the instrument can exchange. In fact, the performer, the instrument and the music embody a confrontational difference.

What’s more, in this specific series, Seven Storey Mountain, Wooley appears to continue to participate in a becoming that is patently rhizomatic. Wooley wants to explore the notion the spiritual and the ecstatic, and he has largely done so before by utilizing a traditional drone/repetition scenario. Seven Storey Mountain begins here, but continues to build, grow, and differentiate that idea in its development. That is, Wooley creates a tape drone (recorded from his air conditioner) and offers this as this first root of the performance. In the first carnation, Wooley played with another musician, Paul Lytton, specifically chosen because Lytton does not fit a style of repetition, and so will confront he and the tape with this opposition. In the second show, Wooley performed of a similar tape score with C. Spencer Yeh and Chris Corsano. In both of these cases, the product was completely different, and Wooley (along with the others) had to transform a playing style in order to participate. In this way, each of the elements, each of the performers was a root in the becoming of the improvised performance and overall rhizome. It is important to note that the roots assemble toward rhizome specifically because of the affective relations of the performers as they play together.

It is exciting then that the next installment of Seven Storey Mountain will occur tonight at ISSUE PROJECT ROOM in Gowanus, Brooklyn. This performance will combine all the roots of his prior two shows, while adding additional performers to the mix. My hope is that the roots will again grow rhizomatically in concert, toward the ecstatic. In fact, it would be easy for Wooley to play a concert series with the same musicians to see how they grow together, but in doing so, the trumpeter would be satisifed with the striated results. The musicians would become comfortable and the musical style would be codify to something coded and territorialized. Instead, Wooley prefers to jumble the roots toward something that he hopes will be “really raw, and loud, and uncomfortable and personal.” Much of this is not the style usually associated with the ultra-precise lowercase musician. Ironically, as Wooley pursues ecstatic and mystical music, he does not do so with a transcendental plan. Instead, his plan is along the lines of Spinoza, as he insisted on affective relationships among performers. Thus, the audience may find the musicians combined in milieu of becoming, in a creative assemblage. Of course, Wooley admits that whole project allows for the possibility of failure, but I wonder too, if Wooley may find something smooth, as Deleuze would have it. Regardless, I hope to hear something irresistibly deterritorialized.

– Colin Nusbaum