For weeks I’ve struggled with how to compose this post because my thoughts feel all chaotic and jumbled.  However, the name of this blog is “Larval Subjects”.  This blog is a place for the development of half-formed, perhaps ill advised or poorly conceived thoughts.  For no thought can be thought before it is thought, and thinking a thought has a certain element of materiality to it, found within speech and writing.  Contrary to Aristotle’s Peri hermenaias, where speech is a sign of thought and writing is a sign of speech, such that thought is conceived as an origin or spirit that precedes speech and writing, there is always something nachträglich in thought.  One never truly knows what they think until after they have done, said, or written it.  Thought is not what precedes our action, speech, and writing as an arche or origin, but is what will have been.  At least that’s how it is with me.  Perhaps others have a presence of mind that precedes speech and writing, yet I am skeptical because even in such instances there is internal monologue which is a certain doubling of the subject as a fold between self and an other that one is and which is a work of composition.  The process of acting, speaking, and writing is not a relation like the relation between clothing and the body, but is the very process by which the body is constituted.  L’habit fait le moine.  I will therefore proceed imprudently and recklessly, inscribing these thoughts in hope that they become a thought, inscribing these thoughts in hopes of some order emerging from the noise of this jumble when I try to think through the Unruly Heritage project.

The concept of heritage evokes that of inheritance.  There is, of course, the notion of inheritance as our individual birthright or that which is bequeathed to us by our family:  the estate as that which has been such a contentious site surrounding taxes in United States politics.  However, there is also a more uncanny inheritance and heritage; the culture– a deeply contested and controversial category –that is our heritage and what we inherit.  It was Heidegger who said that we are thrown into the world.  At the risk of “downloading” Heidegger and inviting a scholarly discussion of his work (please don’t!), it is this state of being thrown into the world that constitutes the uncanniness of heritage.  There is– again, that problematic term –a cultural world that precedes us, that is alien and mysterious to us, that we did not ask for, but which we nonetheless must navigate and live in.  We are thrown into it.  This is not a metaphor, and, as Hegel said, the mysteries of the Egyptians were mysteries to the Egyptians.  What is this claim to mean, if not that this thing we are supposed to be– this heritage –is nonetheless opaque and mysterious to us.  “Am I doing it right?”

What is this thing that we call heritage?  Maybe we get a little further with Deleuze and Guattari.  In A Thousand Plateau, Deleuze and Guattari argue that every social assemblage is dually articulated between what they call a “collective assemblage of enunciation” and a “machinic assemblage”.  Moving quickly (there’s much more to it), collective assemblages of enunciation are the domain of discourse, speech, the symbolic, communication.  In Kafka:  Towards a Minor Literature, they say that there’s an anonymous murmur of language that precedes us and moves through us.  There is something imperative in this anonymous murmur that commands us to repeat.  If this murmur is anonymous, then this is because it is  the speech of no one in particular.  There’s no origin to it, nor any author.  I’m working here from memory of the text, so maybe I’m getting it wrong.  But maybe that’s how it is with collective assemblages of enunciation.  Just as speciation takes place through geographical isolation and genetic drift, culture and heritage change precisely through unfaithful repetition– which is no ones intention in repeating –that gets it wrong.

read on!

On the other hand, there is the machinic assemblages.  Machinic assemblages are not the order of the sign, symbol, and speech, but are rather relations between material bodies or things.  These follow a different logic than that of enunciation.  Where enunciation, Deleuze and Guattari say, brings about incorporeal transformations through a performative speech act– “The court finds the plaintiff guilty of murder!”, now one has become a felon despite nothing changing in their physical attributes –relations between bodies in machinic assemblages are relations in which things affect and are affected by one another.  Deleuze and Guattari give the example of the knight.  The introduction of the stirrup changes warfare dramatically.  Where before a horseback rider would have been thrown off their horse if they tried to hit someone else with their sword or lance, now they can transfer the force of their horse to the sword and lance at a fast gallop.  While it certainly took a concept or idea to create the stirrup, the stirrup itself exercises its power not through an idea or concept, but through what it is as a thing and the powers or capacities of those things.  Machinic assemblages are all around us.  They are roads, infrastructures, technologies of all kinds, power lines, aqueducts and other irrigation techniques, the properties of rice and grains, sails, knots, satellites, water, techniques of inscription (Roman numerals or Arabic?), features of geography, etc., etc., etc.  They are right there in the architectural layout of your apartment and home.  They afford and constrain what we do and how we live, but in a silent way that often “goes without saying” or that isn’t said at all.

In Foucault, Deleuze will say that Foucault explores the dehiscence between the visible and the articulable, such that the two form divergent synthesis where one never mirrors or represents the other, but where they two are nonetheless in relation to one another.  The logic of the visible is not that of the logic of the articulable.  The discourse of the penal system differs from the literal architecture of prisons.  Magritte.  This too is a part of heritage, but remarkably it is often passed over without comment by cultural, social, and political theory.  Perhaps we should not be surprised, as insofar as machinic assemblages follow a silent logic that must be lived and felt to be known, they often fall out of the order of speech altogether.  In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze will speak with admiration of Kant’s discovery of a form of non-conceptual difference, difference not inscribed in the articulable, that can only be intuited or felt.  This is the subject of Kant’s transcendental aesthetic and his discussion of enantiomorphs in the Prolegomena.  Right and left-handed gloves are conceptually identical, yet they are not isomorphic to one another.  The difference between the two is something that can only be sensed.  At the level of writing and discourse, we can only point to or allude to these differences.  We can’t capture them in the Apollonian world of the concept.  Nonetheless, we are thrown into a world of machinic assemblages that we didn’t choose, that is mysterious to us (here we should think of the stoker in Kafka’s Amerika), which nonetheless contributes to the paths along which we move and the things that we do…  I say contributes, not determines.  Anyone who has watched Worst Cooks in America knows that while kitchen tools like knives and vegetable shredders suggest and invite a certain way of being held and used, people can fundamentally fail to miss these imperatives of the things themselves.

An unruly heritage, however, is something quite different.  In Being and Time, Heidegger speaks of an “authentic” way of responding to being thrown into the world where we draw on the alien past into which we’re thrown to project a future and constitute a present.  In a criticism that echoes this way of thinking heritage, Bjørnar Olsen and Þóra Pétursdóttir speak of a sort of a sort of sanitized version of heritage common in heritage studies premised on “…contemporary human interests and conflicts” and “…commemorating various wished for and useful pasts.”  We might think of this version of heritage as what lies behind renovations of the Parthenon, where we strive to return it to its former glory, but as ruins.  In our discussions in Svaerholt, Chris Witmore tells me that the Nazis were particularly preoccupied with the question of ruins.  If I understood him correctly, they designed their buildings and fortifications in such a way as to fall into ruins gracefully (here I couldn’t help but think of Hegel’s response to the discovery that the Greek statues were painted:  “well they shouldn’t have been”).

Drift at Svaerholt, Picture by Levi Bryant

However, there is another form of ruin that is more uncanny than the uncanniness of the alien nature of heritage that we are thrown into.  This heritage is the products of culture’s production that we seek to disavow and throw away.  It is found in landfills, ocean drift, abandoned industrial and fishing towns, toxic waste, abandoned military installations, and all the rest.  These things too are heritage, but they are a disavowed heritage that we would like to be free of.  Riffing on Althusser, they are products of the process of production and the reproduction of the conditions of production.  We believe or would like to believe that we throw these things away, but like the machinic assemblages that we are thrown into and that we must navigate in living in the world.  Here I cannot help but think of Jane Bennett’s claim in Vibrant Matter that, because we think matter is passive and inanimate, we think we can just throw it away and be done with it.  Yet there it is, right in front of us, as something that we inherit.  My wife tells me of a golf course in Northbrook, Illinois built on a landfill that had stacks in it to release the gases from the processes unfolding in the forgotten and buried landfill beneath.  Drawing on Proust’s famous madeleine, Olsen speaks of how archaeology opens the possibility of a sort of involuntary memory.  The Unruly Heritage project confronts us with the repressed side of heritage, the products of social production or, as Bellamy has it, of social “metabolism”, that we think we can throw away and forget but, which like all things repressed, return.  As an archaeology of the anthropocene, it seeks out the secret lives of things and the “tain” of what we call anthropos where our being becomes alien to us and a force we must contend with as we undermine the very world upon which we depend to exist at all.