Everything is a machine. We are here to convey expressive thoughts traversing all those machines. Expecting their reaching to numerous unknown machines, we hope to assume the role of making them unfold outward and be folded inward by the outside.
21. Assemblage and Agent, or In-between the Assemblage of Desire and That of Power
Seoul National University of Technology
An assemblage is a multiplicity in which mutually heterogeneous beings such as humans, things, and animals, etc, are assembled. Conversely, it also refers to the distribution of the singular points that express the singularity of a certain multiplicity. 'Assemblage' is a concept related mostly and contiguous to 'machine.' Guattari defined the machine as 'detachment from the structurally established order(Machine and Structure, Psychoanalysis and Transversality 322). This is close to the ‘partial object’ (Freud, Klein) or Lacan’s ‘object-(a)’ as ‘detached object’ from the organic structure. Of course, Guattari emphasizes that this is the point of deterritorialization at which one can escape from the structure as opposed to the ‘subject’ in the structured field. On the other hand, Deleuze emphasizes and accepts 'serial thinking' as an important contribution of structuralism, but pushes it out of structural isomorphy(The Logic of Sense). It was the concept of machine of Anti-Oedipus that was born at the point where these thoughts meet.
A machine has a specific determination depending on the modality of serialization with the neighboring machine, but at the same time, when serialized with another neighboring one, it gets out of the previous determination and has a different determination. It becomes a different machine. It means that there is a compound of machines connected in such a way on each occasion. This is what we call assemblage. Paper, for example, works as a document-machine that records the tax by connecting with the letters, the bureaucrat, and the money. It also operates as a machine that records poetry by connecting with the letters, the poet, and the reader. These two look similar in that they both do the function of recording. However, The recording function of the former case causes the transfer of the 'thing' that is the tax, whereas the latter causes the transfer of the affect that is the poetic feeling. Here, the compound of the interconnection of paper-text-bureaucrat-money constitutes the assemblage of the tax, whereas the compound of paper-text-poet-reader forms that of the literature.
As such, an assemblage is a multiplicity made of the connection of multiple machines. Here, an assemblage has a theoretical function that is perhaps similar to what is called a 'structure.' That is because it expresses the singularity that repeats differently. Within the assemblage of the literature, everything written on paper, even numbers or pictures can be a part of an art work. Of course, whether good or not is another matter. A difference with the concept of structure is that, unlike a structure, an assemblage easily transitions to another assemblage. If the money is added to the assemblage of the literature, for example, it moves on to an entirely different assemblage where the recorded writing is determined by the number sold.
Another difference is that the concept of structure homogenizes the terms that are serialized, whereas an assemblage serializes the heterogeneous as they are. To speak of the structure of a certain language, for example, sounds must be reduced to homogeneous objects called phonemes, and the meaning of sentences must be reduced to homogeneous components such as morphemes and syntax. On the other hand, the concept of assemblage can distinguish and explain various assemblages such as the assemblage of reading, the assemblage of swear word, or the assemblage of lecture by serializing very heterogeneous things such as words, facial expression, finger, and the tone of voice as they are.
Because of this contiguity between the concept of machine and that of assemblage, the usage of 'assemblage' is limited to 'machinic assemblage' in Anti-Oedipus. In other words, the concept of the assemblage of enunciation doesn’t appear in Anti-Oedipus. Instead, only the concept of ‘the collective agents of enunciation’ is used(AO 64). On the other hand, the concept of assemblage is distinguished into the machinic assemblage and the assemblage of enunciation in Kafka and A Thousand Plateaus written after Anti-Oedipus, and it is used in an equivalent sense in both concepts. Furthermore, it is used by itself without adnominals like ‘machinic’ or ‘of enunciation.’ The fact that the title of the last chapter of Kafka is "What is an assemblage?" clearly shows this point(Kafka(K) 81)
A Thousand Plateaus is, in a word, a book about the assemblage. First of all, each ‘plateau’ in this book is an analysis of the assemblage found in language and sign, organism, face, society and politics, state or art, etc. Each is also an analysis of the assemblage of desire and power that forms the aspect of life in each sphere, and an analysis of the modalities in which the lines of territorialization and deterritorialization are drawn in each assemblage. Or, it is an analysis of the unconsciousness as a multiplicity that forms such modalities, and an analysis of the intensive variation('becoming') that transitions from one assemblage to another.
Looking at it from a slightly different angle, A Thousand Plateaus is a book about the movement that territorializes and deterritorializes the stratified through the 'milieu' called assemblage. And it also is a book that pushes the line of deterritorialization from the strata to seek the way to the abstract machine and the plane of consistency. In the conclusion of this book, which is described as if it is a dictionary of concepts, we can confirm this flow of thinking. Beginning with 'Strata, stratification,' its conclusion subtitled 'Concrete Rules and Abstract Machines' leads to Assemblages. And then, it goes through the concept of Rhizome that explains the modalities of the assemblages, and goes on to 'Plane of Consistency, Body without Organs.' Lastly, it ends with 'Deterritorialization' and 'Abstract Machines' added to it(TP 501-516). The stratum is the stubbornest pole of the concrete rules, whereas the pure virtuality of intensity=0 is the opposite pole, where there is abstract machine and plane of consistency that can be reached through absolute deterritorialization. This flow of thinking can be confirmed again from the fact that most plateaus begin with the assemblage of the stratified and end with the plane of consistency. That the assemblage is an 'interstratum' in that it is between strata(TP 73) can be understood in this sense.
In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze/ Guattari said that every assemblage has a 'tetravalance.'(TP 88-89) First, 'the machinic assemblage' and 'the assemblage of enunciation' indicate two segments or two attributes that an assemblage has. In other words, these are the segments of 'content' and 'expression.' The former belongs to 'the corporeal,' whereas the latter belongs to 'the non-corporeal.' This distinction corresponds to Spinoza's concepts about the two attributes of the substance. On the other hand, every assemblage has the reterritorializing force to assemble and stabilize the components that belong to it, while at the same time having the edge of deterritorialization that deviates from it and transitions to another assemblage. In short, the tetravalance included in every assemblage is expressed by the two segments of the content and the expression or the machinic assemblage and the assemblage of enunciation and the reterritorializing force and the edge of deterritorialization included in each of them.
A school, for example, consists of the machinic assemblage of the divided space of the classroom, the table and desk, the students homogenized by age, and the texts. There also is the assemblage of enunciation that consists of the rules regulating the words and behaviors of the teachers and the students, the knowledge of education, the distribution of the rights to say according to the position, the rules determining the contents and methods of the say, etc. The assemblage of enunciation determines the way the corporeal-machinic components are confronted and adjusted with each other, and the machinic assemblage becomes the condition under which such assemblages of enunciation can have corporeal validity. On the other hand, components such as the importance of education, the method of education, tests, and the usefulness of punishment hold these heterogeneous things having different origins together and reterritorialize them. However, the student-student relationship, which is as important a component of the school as the teacher-student relationship, forms a possible zone for deviating from the assemblage of schools where teaching and learning are conducted. The same goes for the interest and ability not reduced to the tests and the punishment exceeding the function of education. These components are the edges of deterritorialization existing in the assemblage of the school. When the force of deterritorialization working here exceeds that of reterritorialization, the assemblage of the school transitions to another assemblage.
Deleuze says the assemblage is the 'real minimum unit.' "The minimum real unit is not the word, the idea, the concept or the signifier, but the assemblage. lt is always an assemblage which produces utterances.”(Dialogue(D) 51) This word directly goes for the assemblage of enunciation because it is a word related to the literature, but the same is true of the machinic assemblage. In other words, the minimum unit active in reality' is neither a subject nor an individual nor a human nor an organism, but an assemblage. Just as buildings or desks are not independent units of activity in the school, for example, teachers, students, and principals are also not independent units of activity, From the anthropocentric perspective that always sees human as the subject and other components as the 'tools,' this makes no sense. However, if one speaks and acts as a teacher at home or in a cafe without the neighboring machines that worked together in an assemblage, they are likely to become a 'wack,' or a 'ubervisor.' That the minimum unit that exists in reality is the assemblage means this.
Then, you may ask back how we have to understand each ‘machine’ such as the human or the thing in an assemblage and their actions. They are all ‘agents’ that execute what the assemblages require. Here, it should be reminded that ‘assemblage’ is the English translation of French word ‘agencement.’ Agence means agency in English. This is a word directly related to the word ‘agent’ meaning someone who carries out the business commissioned by another person. In his later work Dialogue, Deleuze also uses the verb ‘agencer’ in connection with this(Dialogue/France(DF) 66). This word is translated as ‘assembling’ in the English version, therefore the original meaning related to the ‘agent’ isn’t properly conveyed(D 52). (For the sake of the conveyance of meaning, we choose the word 'acting' here.) 'Being led to speak for, in the place of'(D. 52) is acting. Or, 'Speaking with, writing with' someone that commissions a task is referred to as acting. This is what the agency for popular artists claims to carry out. The same is true of trading companies or business distributers, which work for someone, for the business commissioned by her, and on behalf of her. In that sense, acting is "being in the middle," and on the line of encounter between two different worlds(D 52).
In the assemblage of the school, the teachers and the principals are all agents of this assemblage. The same goes for the desks, the tests, and the class timetables, which are the agents that carry out the tasks given by that assemblage in their own ways for the students and for the sake of the education. Acting also occurs between machines within an assemblage. When dealing with a typewriter for the desire to write, the typewriter acts for the author’s will to write. Conversely, in order to handle a typewriter well, the author have to get his/her hands and eyes accustomed to the typewriter. In other words, the body must be able to act for the machinic will of the typewriter. This is why Deleuze/Guattari said that, when typewriting, they are the operator of the machine that is the typewriter, and at the same time, they are the living material which it selects and deals with(K 56). By the same token, the teacher acts for the desire built in the text and timetable, and is an agent that acts ‘for the students’ in such a way. The students also are required to be faithful agents that execute what is demanded by the classroom and timetable. Conversely, the classroom and the timetable also act for the teacher’s will to teach the students.
As such, each machine in an assemblage is the agent of its neighboring machines. To put it more strongly, all the components that make up an assemblage are the gears and parts of the assemblage(K 56). A gear is an agent that transmits the will of the neighboring gear to another . Of course, acting doesn't always go exactly. All machines work continually breaking down. Creaking continually, an assemblage works as a multiplicity.
The power is a desire that demands the neighboring gear to act in the given assemblage, and is a will that is realized through the ‘obedience’ working thereby. For this reason, power and desire are not different. “There isn't a desire for power; it is power itself that is desire.”(K 56) Within an assemblage, each is an agent and 'slave' that obeys the neighboring machines. At the same time, it is also a ‘master’ that demands acting, that is, obedience from the neighboring machines. The power is said to be segmental in that it is the power that makes it move matching the action of its neighboring gear-segment. “Each segment is power, a power as well as a figure of desire. Each segment is a machine or a piece of the machine”(K 56)
This implies new thoughts about power and desire. There are clear oppositions between the desire for oppression and the revolutionary desire and between the desire to repress and the desire to be repressed. The question "Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?"(AO 29) itself demonstrates this. On the other hand, that the power works segmentally means that each part requires its neighboring part to act for a specific desire, and at the same time acts for the desire of another neighboring part and works at its command. Every part is the 'master' that commands his neighboring machine and the 'slave' that executes the command of another machine. It only functions differently depending on where it is. "Repression, for both the represser and the repressed, flows from this or that assemblage of power-desire, from this or that state of the machine (...) Repression depends on the machine, and not the other way around.”(K 56)
This makes it clear that desire and power are in mutually immanent relations. The assemblage is the immanent field of desire and power. However, that the desire and the power are immanent doesn't mean that the two are the same. They are different not only in their statuses in an assemblage but also in their operation methods. The power works in such a way that it has another part act for its own desire within an assemblage and makes sure it is executed properly. Here, the beginning and the end are what matter most. A segment is a line with two distinct end points. These two points are the points where the power works(TP 218). 'It's not lunchtime, it's class time.' In this way, the power works at the starting point. The test or evaluation effectuates the power that works at the endpoint, but it works not only at the end but also retroactively to the middle, 'Do you want to screw up the coming exam?' Thereby, the power operates the force of reterritorialization within an assemblage.
However, the machines work continually breaking down. In some cases, they may stop being faithful parts, refuse to carry out commands, and even try to deviate from the assemblage. The power is suspended, and the desire that deviated from the power gets to draw a line of flight. This is what happens at the edge of deterritorialization. This desire transitions to another assemblage or even creates a new assemblage. However, the assemblage made up in such a way must also activate the force of reterritorialization. In other words, it works as an assemblage of power.
It should be noted here that the desire overflows the segmentalized power and flows outside. In other words, it is a desire that creates a new assemblage, and the power only works within the created assemblage. The proposition that an assemblage is an assemblage of the desire rather than that of the power, and the proposition that the line of flight precedes the power(TP 531 n39) means this. It is the desire that creates a new assemblage getting out of the given assemblage, and the power, within the assemblage created by the desire, only works in a way that maintains it.
The concept of machine or agent also has this kind of two-sidedness. Heterogeneous parts being assembled, an assemblage is constructed and works. Therefore, in order for an assemblage to work as a multiplicity, these heterogeneous things must ‘collaborate with each other and work as an aggregation.’ “The assemblage is co-functioning, it is ‘sympathy', symbiosis”(D 52). Of course, sympathy, in this case, is a collision of two bodies, implying the conflict and struggle that occur between them(D 53). Therefore, acting does not mean simply following what is required. An agent is a ’middle.‘ A good agent is not a representative that represents the desire of the master as it is(K 55) but the one that mediates the gap or friction between two parts, between two different worlds, and the one that even changes the demand of the ’master’ itself in the middle. For example, when writing on behalf of a lunatic, a good agent rather writes rescuing the madness from the lunatics than just writing as a representative of the lunatic. It is not to write accepting the situation of the lunatic but to write extracting something positive for life between the lunatic and the normal person(D 53). In short, a good agent is the one that gets the heterogeneous parts sympathetic and symbiotic with each other and the one that at the same time activates the ingredient of transition toward a new assemblage. "Machines are always singular keys that open or close an assemblage, a territory”(TP 334). This sentence is also about the two poles of an agent within an assemblage.
translated by Jung Ki Lee