Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Parts and Whole - something to think about

In Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari write one of the most important sections in the book under the title of 'The whole and the parts'. In this section they lay the grounds for the concept of assemblage, so predominant in A Thousand Plateaus, and also allows DeLanda to construct an assemblage theory in his 2006 book. Deleuze and Guattari write;

'we live today in the age of partial objects, bricks that have been shattered to
bits, and leftover. We no longer believe in the myth of the existence of
fragments that, like the pieces of an antique statue, are waiting for the last
one to be turned up, so that they may all be glued back together to create a
unity that is precisely the same as the original unity. We no longer believe in
a primordial totality that once existed, or in a final totality that awaits us
at some future date'(p45-46)


Their point is clear, if we are to think of a whole and parts, we cannot think in terms of a closed whole or totalising whole, and instead the whole should be considered as an open whole, a produced whole; 'the whole itself is a product, produced as nothing more than a part alongside other parts'(p46).The whole is therefore nothing other than an assemblage, and this assemblage has component parts that can be removed and plugged in elsewhere.
In a online lecture to the tate Delanda gives a nice example of this. In New York there is a factory that produces spider silk for its strength. However, the problem is you cannot domestic spiders for factory life. To solve this problem the factory took the genetic code from the spider that allowed is to produce the silk and literally plugged this into goats, and hey presto spider goats! Well not quite. The goat produces this silk in their milk, and then the workers separate the milk from the silk. The point of this example is that the whole of the goat, or its identity, is contingent upon component parts, and these component parts are not essential to some ‘goatness’. This is how we should think of all wholes, as assemblages that are historically contingent, with no essential features. Yet there is something more important about thinking about wholes as assemblages, which have component parts. This turns the focus to relations of exteriority, coexistence, and alliance. The famous example of the wasp and the orchid from Deleuze and Guattari demonstrates this focus on relations of exteriority between component parts of an assemblage, where the assemblage in this example could be an ecosystem. Assemblages studies can therefore understand territory/coded rhythms (refrains) without essentialising or totalising these. Assemblages can be understood for features of attractors, which could be seasonal, strange, multiple, and so forth. Yet, as Deleuze and Guattari write in A Thousand Plateaus a machine can plug into an assemblage and alter the territory/rhythm.
The last point, and something DeLanda mentions a lot, is can there be a shift towards an ethics of assemblage, which would considered things in terms of good and bad, and not good and evil (moral essentialism)? This notion of course comes from Spinoza. An example would be adding fertiliser in a soil, where adding too much would kill the crops (bad) and adding a certain amount would help the crops to grow (good). this would led thought to consider critical thersholds within assemblages, and not in a linear causality, but a non-linear causality, accounting for complex feedbacks.

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