Graham Harman’s abstract for Deleuze2008


The abstract for Graham Harman’s keynote address at the Deleuze2008 conference at Stavanger:

Graham Harman
‘The Assemblage Theory of Society’

This lecture considers the interesting ‘assemblage theory’ of society found in Manuel DeLanda’s A New Philosophy of Society (2006), which links up with some of the key issues of classical and present-day metaphysics, not to mention some of the central themes of this conference.

DeLanda’s use of the assemblage has the great appeal that it allows him to avoid two typical exaggerated positions about the nature of individual things:

(a) for Leibniz, there is an absolute distinction between natural substances and artificial aggregates. By contrast, DeLanda holds that all genuine entities (whether machines, armies, or trees) are made up of swarming legions of tinier entities.

(b) yet despite this vision of entities as assemblages formed from multiple subcomponents, DeLanda does not adopt the pseudo-radicalism of claiming that ‘there is no inherent reality; everything is only a relational effect.’ Quite the opposite: DeLanda’s remorseless realism leads him to assert that even those societies created by humans have an inherent reality apart from everything that humans know about them. More generally, an assemblage of any kind is not reducible to its relational effects on other things.

Hence, an assemblage is a strange sort of entity, lying midway between the traditional substance and aggregate. An assemblage is like a substance insofar as it marks a surplus beyond any of its outer effects (relations are external to their terms). But an assemblage is also like an aggregate, insofar as it is many. It is not some final atom of reality found in nature in the manner of Leibniz’s monads. Indeed, assemblages are constantly created or destroyed and can be found in a wide range of sizes, from subatomic beings on up to international spy conspiracies.

Criteria are still needed for distinguishing genuine assemblages from random lists of entities. And DeLanda does offer such criteria, drawing convincingly from the work of Roy Bhaskar. The main goal of this lecture is to streamline and to some extent criticize DeLanda’s criteria for what makes an assemblage a real assemblage. In this way, new light is shed on Deleuze’s vision of the Open, and new questions raised about the role of ‘the virtual’ in DeLanda and Deleuze.

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