Deleuze’s concept of assemblage in Greek Studies

I have been reading with special interest and profit very recent, published and unpublished, work by scholars in various disciplines who approach different sites, periods, and aspects of Greek culture by activating the major Deleuzian concept of assemblage. Since I too have been using this concept in my discussions of the Left Melancholy Generation of 2000, I have been especially impressed by the range and rigor of its current circulation in Greek Studies. Before I indicate some of these recent uses, here is an aural illustration of “assemblage” as a collective exercise in attunement:

In Gilles Deleuze’s own words, an assemblage is “a multiplicity which is made up of many heterogeneous terms and which establishes liaisons, relations between them, across ages, sexes, and reigns — different natures. Thus, the assemblage’s only unity is that of co-functioning … It is never filiations which are important, but alliances, alloys; these are not successions, lines of descent, but contagions, epidemics, the wind” (Deleuze & Parnet, Dialogues, 69-70).  Deleuze and Guattari call an assemblage “every constellation of singularities and traits deduced from the flow – selected, organized, stratified – in such a way as to converge (consistency), artificially and naturally, into extremely vast constellations constituting ‘cultures’ or even ages” (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 406).

In “The Construction of Community in the Modern Aegean,” Will Stroebel (Michigan) argues that in the “narration” To spiti mou/My home (1965), her invocation of her native Mykonos, Melpo Axioti (1905-73) “composed a kind of textual ‘reconstruction site’ of the island, re-assembling the space through a pastiche of primary historical documents: medieval tracts, journal entries, unpublished songs, scraps of manuscript and print.” He identifies “a network of things that … continue re-assembling themselves in the island’s communal spaces and homes—and … in the novel too, which is itself a powerful agent in this assemblage.” By taking a close look at the networks of materials and humans assembling such books (and also being assembled by them) in the post-Ottoman Aegean he recuperates “the many agencies and actors that today have been eclipsed by authors and their [national] canons.” Overall he brings New Materialism and Actor-Network Theory into dialogue with autonomist political theories by showing how, as a crucial actor in assemblages, literature too assembles the commons.

Looking also at literature, Theodoros Chiotis (Oxford) examines how modernist autogeography, through its deterritorialized documenting and archiving of “things” such as photos and maps, reconceptualizes depersonalized subjectivity as an assemblage and points the way to a new commons of interconnected assemblages as resistance to capitalist subsumption. In “An outlet won’t do any good: Contemporary Greek poetry in crisis,” he argues that poems like George Prevedourakis’ Kleftiko (2013), “written while in the throes of this traumatic experience we call crisis, … are documenting historical change in terms of assemblages, that is to say in collective events characterized by spontaneity, amorphousness and unarticulated desires.” He is also interested in textual “meta-machinic assemblages” formed by the “configuration and distribution” of digital poems embedded in computational environments where “human and machine languages become enmeshed” in both material and immaterial spaces.

In a conversation on “an Emergent Politics and Ethics of Resistance” that draws explicitly on Greek anti-austerity mobilizations, Othon Alexandrakis (York) and Athina Athanassiou (Panteion) conceive of mass protest as a “political assemblage,” a resonant arrangement that mobilizes collective practice, and reflect on its epistemic contribution. He understands it as “a political formation that emerges out of the intersection of heterogeneous interests and commitments but that produces effects and finalities that cannot be reduced to a single coalescence of these” (260). In a complementary way she defines it as a matrix of “heterogeneous, indeterminate, and situated social contingencies — such as techniques, temporalities, bodies, affects, and power relations — to be construed in nonessentialist and non-totalizable ways” (216). They are both interested in the performative work of social solidarity in assembling collective politics.

In “Sensorial Assemblages: Affect, Memory and Temporality in Assemblage Thinking,” Yannis Hamilakis (Brown) is interested in “sensorial assemblages” characterized by the contingent coexistence and flow of heterogeneous elements such as sites, things, substances, bodies, ideas, and memories, all energized by affective relations. He argues “that a fundamental property of all assemblages is their sensorial and affective import; that assemblages are arrangements of material and immaterial entities; and that they are also about material and sensorial memory, as well as about the engendering of diverse temporalities; and finally, that assemblages necessitate the deliberate agency and intervention of social actors” (Cambridge Archaeological Journal 27:1, 2017, 170). He focuses on a cumulative assemblage generated by a series of feasting and drinking occasions of communal gatherings in a Cretan landscape around 1500 BC as well as its implications not only for other assemblages in communities near and far away but also for the assemblage produced by the modern excavation and its afterlife.

Even though these scholars of Greek work in 4 different disciplines and are affiliated with universities in 4 different countries, they share many methodological interests.

a) They see their fields (criticism, poetics, anthropology, and archaeology,) as distinct, yet porous, their practices as scholarly, yet creative.

b) Their pursuits converge in the possibility of a “common,” prefigured, as it were, in narrative Mykonos, poetic computation, political protest, and Bronze Age feast.

c) They abandon modernist ontologies of recovery and reconstitution to present publishing, auto-writing, protesting, and feasting as techniques of assembling.

d) They elaborate the notion of assemblage as both method of thought and mode of being, and therefore they define as well as practice it, that is, they simultaneously describe and illustrate its uses.

e) While reflecting on assemblage poetics/politics, at the same time they practice assemblage thinking/writing as an engaged scholarship that invites others (scholars, intellectuals, artists, activists) to assemble as well.

All these recent readings remind me of an activity I often share with my “other self,” Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis: Putting together lists of musical and literary pieces that can work as courses which we will both co-teach and co-perform — experimenting, that is, with collaborative courses-cum-recitals as assemblages (as opposed to traditional syllabi or programs). More on this favorite exercise in another post.

February 28, 2017

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