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The Concept of Assemblages

The philosophy of Deleuze is complex, and any full explanation of his oeuvre and associated terminology are considerably beyond the scope of this chapter. One very important concept in Deleuzian thought, however, is that of the assemblage. Some of the explanations offered for an assemblage in this book may be considered as overlapping with another important Deleuzian concept known as multiplicity. While the two concepts differ in degree, they can be interpreted as having some common attributes depending on the context in which they are set. In order to simplify my interpretation of an assemblage, I have elected to use only the term assemblage throughout this chapter.

Following the mathematics developed originally by Gauss and later expanded by Riemann, a new form of mathematics was developed that completely changed aspects of the mathematics developed by Descartes. This is in combination with the philosophy developed by Bergson, Deleuze, and Guattari offer a calculus of change: nonenduring wholes that exist without having been given some external set of coordinates, as determined by some external hierarchy, such as to render an established universally accepted identity for any given whole. They call this concept an assemblage.

An assemblage, for Deleuze and Guattari, is not constrained by some essential quality and has no enduring universal identity. It can and does have boundaries, but these boundaries are porous and subject to constant variation (like the unification of Germany). Universal classifications therefore no longer apply. Concepts such as country, school, technology education, student, state, society, and culture, for example, are assemblages—concepts that have no enduring properties but rather possess properties that are subject to constant states of change, redefinition, and reconstitution.

Assemblages, for Deleuze, are differentiated into two types: quantitative and qualitative. The former is a relatively straightforward concept: quantitative assemblages are “actual, objective, and extensive. [They] are represented in space, posses an identity, and differ in degree from one another” (Tampio, 2010, p. 912). Qualitative assemblages, on the other hand, cannot be counted; they are “virtual, subjective and intensive [and] are experienced in lived time” (p. 912). Both forms of assemblage, Deleuze suggests, are intertwined; they coexist and interpenetrate: “Deleuze takes the idea that [technology, for example] is composed of different [assemblages] that form a kind of patchwork or ensemble without becoming a totality or whole” (Roffe, 2005, p. 176).

Consider a house, for example. In conventional thinking, a house is an objective whole that can be identified as a place where people live. A house has actual properties that can be quantified, like walls and floors and a roof. It has rooms to live in, to cook in, and to bathe in. A house has windows and doors and rainwater pipes. The problem with this description is, however, that it does not offer a clear, logical, mathematical, or scientific definition for a house, one that can reduce the concept of house to some essential quality. No description can. This is because there is no essential quality that can represent a house. As soon as we try to offer one, there is always something else, something more, something beyond, something we had not considered possible before. We simply do not know what a house is capable of becoming in the future. We do know, however, what the concept of a house has been in historical and cultural terms: a cave, an igloo, a tepee, a yurt, a bungalow, an apartment, a cardboard box, to name but a few. But none of these offer us any universal, enduring identity that offers us some quality that represents the specific essence of a house. It only offers some general conception related to history and culture.

While a house can be considered a quantitative assemblage in that it is actual and identifiable as a house, albeit in a contingent sense, it is also a qualitative assemblage. A house is more than the sum of its quantifiable parts; it is a form of expression, a form of intensity that awakens emotions and feelings. A house can offer protection from the elements; it may be considered to be a sanctuary, an enclosed space offering privacy, warmth, and security. A house may, for some, appear to express the wealth of its owners, or the power of its inhabitants (as in the case of the White House), or again it may express aesthetic beauty for others. A house, which is an assemblage, is capable of both affecting and being affected.

Put another way, there is no such thing as a house, at least not in the conventional sense. There is only becoming house, not becoming a house, as that would presuppose some ideal final form. For Deleuze, “things and states are products of becoming. The human subject, for example, ought not to be conceived as a stable, rational individual, experiencing changes but remaining principally, the same person: rather, for Deleuze, one’s self must be conceived as a constantly changing assemblage of forces, an epiphenomenon arising from chance confluences of language, organisms, societies, expectations, laws and so on” (Stagoll, 2005, p. 21).

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