Assemblage = Complexity

by stronged

I found a quote that illustrates the blind trust I must have that my research project will somehow miraculously work out as I stumble my way into understanding how place is assembled out of 1) our experience of it, and 2) what society classifies it as.

‘…[Assemblage theory] opens the researcher up to risk, embraces uncertainty, expresses something of the fragility of composition, and strives to listen to what Deleuze and Guattari term “the sound of a contagious future, the murmur (rumeur) of new assemblages of desire, of machines, and of statements, that insert themselves into the old assemblages and break with them” (1986, 83)’ (Anderson & McFarlane, 126).

The changeable nature of assemblages makes them a tricky concept to define and capture in a research project. Any one assemblage does not stay in the same state forever; assemblages are constantly changing and reforming. Much like our cognitive understanding of most things. The more we learn about something the more it changes in form. Every new piece of information we learn rewrites what was before it or is simply added to the stockpile of an already functioning system of knowledge. The addition, however, alters this system into a new type of system.

This explains why we feel utterly shellshocked when a new piece of information shakes up our previously held firm convictions of a topic or thing. We’re kidding ourselves if we believe our impression of a particular scenario or thing is fixed. Stability is illusory. The only stability we achieve is a fleeting realisation or impression that Tuan calls “Pause” (more on this later). Every new experience opens up the possibility to change previously held experiences. These building blocks of information can be seen to assemble into particular schema’s of knowledge that we access when retrieving our impression of a topic or thing.

Assemblage theory heralds the notion that everything is impermanent. Everything is in a constant state of flux whereby whole worlds of information are continuously forming and reforming. The multifaceted nature of experiencing things instigates this process of continual change. Every new experience of a particular thing creates a new impression of it, or more commonly shows us a new dimension of what that thing is. Over a period of time, this thing becomes more and more multifaceted in nature as we are exposed to the many different “faces” it has.

You may be asking yourself, how many “faces” does a light bulb have? Or a dinner plate? Think of the most mundane, simple object around and it still has countless faces to its existence. The previously mentioned objects for example certainly function in a multiplicity of ways in our phenomenological impression of them. One face of the light bulb in my experience was when I clicked it into its socket without realising the power was on and temporarily blinded myself. Another light bulb face was when I was riding past a group of drunken adolescents late at night. One of the adolescents hurled a light bulb into the street where it shattered into a million fragments.

Faces are exposed to us through engaging with these objects. This may not necessarily be physical interaction, like the examples above, for the faces of objects are often engaged over conversation or merely trivial thought. If I was thinking about how to alter the mood of an interior environment by lighting, I may decide that painting a light bulb would realise the effect I am desiring. Thinking about a light bulb may alter our impression of it by broadening our understanding of the apparatus and it’s capacity to be utilised in different scenarios, thus modifying our assemblage of it.

In summary, assemblages in geographical terms can be seen as the way we order and reorder the increasing “faces” of a place. The more we engage with a place the more multifaceted it becomes, and therefore the more denser the assemblage becomes. Assemblages are in a constant state of becoming whereby our experience (either materially or immaterially) of the independent objects of a place expand and contract depending on our impression of them.

Using Deleuze and Guattari as a basis for a geographical understanding of assemblage, Anderson and McFarlane explain how assemblages can be divided into two axes; ‘a machinic assemblage of desire and a collective assemblage of enunciation (Deleuze and Guattari 1986, 81)’ (125). The former is a collection of heterogenous elements, the latter a collection and system of words and meanings. These two axes are not mutually exclusive however, for with every vocabulary there must be a networked system of elements, and vice versa.

Taking a functionalist approach one would attribute names only by first observing what that particular element does within the system. From the opposite perspective, a system can only be identified as a system by attributing names to the individual elements. Both approaches feed off one another in order to sustain a meaningful assemblage.

I like the use of the term “murmur (rumeur)” to describe this notion of assemblage. With every new assemblage we come across we feel a murmur of the one before and ahead of it. An echo or temporal shadow. We understand that this assemblage has not come from nothing, but is a re-appropriation of other qualities that constitutes it whole. Similarly, we know that this assemblage will fall apart and be reconstituted into a new assemblage in the near future. These murmurs are not audible, not tangible in a sensory manner, but more of an intuition that has been finely tuned through experience.