In preparing my talk on Deleuze’s overturning of Platonism and his theory of simulacra for the RMMLA on Friday, I came across the following terrific interview with Deleuze on A Thousand Plateaus and assemblages:
If there is no single field to act as a foundation, what is the unity of A Thousand Plateaus?
I think it is the idea of an assemblage (which replaces the idea of desiring machines). There are various kinds of assemblages, and various component parts. On the one hand, we are trying to substitute the idea of assemblage for the idea of behavior: whence the importance of ethology, and the analysis of animal assemblages, e.g., territorial assemblages. The chapter on the Ritornello, for example, simultaneously examines animal assemblages and more properly musical assemblages: this is what we call a “plateau,” establishing a continuity between the ritornellos of birds and Schumann’s ritornellos. On the other hand, the analysis of assemblages, broken down into their component parts, opens up the way to a general logic: Guattari and I have only begun, and completing this logic will undoubtedly occupy us in the future. Guattari calls it “diagrammatism.” In assemblages you you find states of things, bodies, various combinations of bodies, hodgepodges; but you also find utterances, modes of expression, and whole regimes of signs. The relations between the two are pretty complex. For example, a society is defined not by productive forces and ideology, but by “hodgepodges” and “verdicts.” Hodgepodges are combinations of interpenetrating bodies. These combinations are well-known and accepted (incest, for example, is a forbidden combination). Verdicts are collective utterances, that is, instantaneous and incorporeal transformations which have currency in a society (for example, “from now on you are no longer a child”…).
These assemblages which you are describing, seems to me to have value judgments attached to them. Is this correct? Does A Thousand Plateaus have an ethical dimension?
Assemblages exist, but they indeed have component parts that serve as criteria and allow the various assemblages to be qualified. Just as in painting, assemblages are a bunch of lines. But there are all kinds of lines. Some lines are segments, or segmented; some lines get caught in a rut, or disappear into “black holes”; some are destructive, sketching death; and some lines are vital and creative. These creative and vital lines open up an assemblage, rather than close it down. The idea of an “abstract” line is particularly complex. A line may very well represent nothing at all, be purely geometrical, but it is not yet abstract as long as it traces an outline. An abstract line is a line with no outlines, a line that passes between things, a line in mutation. Pollock’s line has been called abstract. In this sense, an abstract line is not a geometrical line. It is very much alive, living and creative. Real abstraction is non-organic life. This idea of nonorganic life is everywhere in A Thousand Plateaus and this is precisely the life of the concept. An assemblage is carried along by its abstract lines, when it is able to have or trace abstract lines. You know, it’s curious, today we are witnessing the revenge of silicon. Biologists have often asked themselves why life was “channeled” through carbon rather than silicon. But the life of modern machines, a genuine non-organic life, totally distinct from the organic life of carbon, is channeled through silicon. This is the sense in which we speak of a silicon-assemblage. In the most diverse fields, one has to consider the component parts of assemblages, the nature of the lines, the mode of life, the mode of utterance…
In reading your work, one gets the feeling that those distinctions which are traditionally most important have disappeared: for instance, the distinction between nature and culture; or what about epistemological distinctions?
There are two ways to supress or attenuate the distinction between nature and culture. The first is to liken animal behavior to human behavior (Lorenz tried it, with disquieting political implications). But what we are saying is that the idea of assemblages can replace the idea of behavior, and thus with respect to the idea of assemblage, the nature-culture distinction no longer matters. In a certain way, behavior is still a countour. But an assemblage is first and foremost what keeps very heterogeneous elements together: e.g. a sound, a gesture, a position, etc., both natural and artificial elements. The problem is one of “consistency” or “coherence,” and it prior to the problem of behavior. How do things take on consistency? How do they cohere? Even among very different things, an intensive continuity can be found. We have borrowed the word “plateau” from Bateson precisely to designate these zones of intensive continuity. (Two Regimes of Madness, pgs. 176 – 179)
1) Assemblages are composed of heterogeneous elements or objects that enter into relations with one another. These objects are not all of the same type. Thus you have physical objects, happenings, events, and so on, but you also have signs, utterances, and so on. While there are assemblages that are composed entirely of bodies, there are no assemblages composed entirely of signs and utterances.
2) I think the idea of different kinds of lines is particularly fruitful. This is especially the case of those lines that tend towards ruts, black holes, and death. Posts about minotaurs, trolls, and gray vampires are really posts about black holes. The black hole or, as Einstein called it “dark star”, is an entity whose gravitational force is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape from it. Minotauring, trolling, and gray vampiring are forms of engagement that suck all discussion into their orbit, preventing it from moving on. As such, they tend to prevent the formation of assemblages. One aim in cultivating and evaluating assemblages lies in finding ways to escape ruts, black holes, and lines leading to death.
3) Deleuze’s claims about coherency and consistency are particularly important. Consistency and coherence are not qualities that precede assemblages, rather they are emergent properties that do or do not arise from assemblage. It is noteworthy that the term “consistency” is not being used in the logical sense, but in the sense of solutions and substances. Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of consistency is closer to the way we use it when talking about cement, referring to it as “soupy”, “dry”, “lumpy”, “coarse”, “consisting of stone and lime”, etc., than the logical sense of “lacking in contradictions”. An assemblage can be riddled with contradictions as in the case of the economic and ethnic divisions that divide the North and South side of Chicago, while still producing consistency and coherence. Consistency and coherence are thus not about being without logical contradiction, nor about harmony, but rather about how heterogeneous elements or objects hang together.