So, long-time readers of this blog know that I’m a fan. Although I work pretty strictly within the framework instaurated by Cornelius Castoriadis, I have often found Manuel De Landa‘s interventions (and innovations) with Giles Deleuze‘s thought some of the most brain-reformatting stuff around. It’s been profoundly useful to me. I only recently discovered the excellent blog by English Professor Steven Shaviro, and a short review he wrote of De Landa’s most recent book, A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. I haven’t read this one yet, so I’m grateful to have someone else do a little pre-digestion for me.
One of the things that Shaviro picks up on that has run throughout Deleuze and De Landa’s writings, and which I think is the most important insight either has ever had (and perhaps even the foundation for all the rest of their insights) is what Shaviro (perhaps following De Landa) refers to as the importance of the “exteriority of relations.” Here’s a quote:
I like DeLanda’s basic argument: which is to insist on the exteriority of relations. Traditionally, positivist, atomistic thought has pretty much denied the importance of relations between entities: the entities themselves are the absolutes, and all relations between them are merely accidental. Thus neoclassical economics adopts a “methodological individualism” according to which “all that matters are rational decisions made by individual persons in isolation from one another” (4). On the other hand, what DeLanda calls the “organismic metaphor” (8) asserts that entities are entirely defined by the totality to which they belong, entirely constituted by their relations: “the basic concept in this theory is what we may call relations of interiority: the component parts are constituted by the very relations they have to other parts in the whole” (9). Hegelian thought is the most powerful example of this tendency, thought Saussurean linguistics and the “structuralism” influenced by it could also be mentioned.
Indeed – the point here is that it is much less logical (and makes less sense) to try and ‘think’ society (or anything, really) as an object first, and then put that object into relationship with other objects, than it does to ‘think’ society as something which emerges out of the relationships it has with other things. That is – the things we normally think of as primary entities are really secondary ones. The primary entities – the ones we should be paying attention to – are the entities composed of the entire network of relations. This is all owed to Spinoza of course, and especially to Deleuze’s love of Spinoza, but also to the vitalism of Bergson. Check it out.
Oh yeah – here’s the beginning to a good lecture by Delanda on Deleuze.