Posted by: Johan Normark | April 18, 2009

PA 4 – Polyagency

In my dissertation and my licentiate thesis I used my own constructed concept of polyagency. I changed its meaning between the licentiate thesis and the dissertation. Polyagency still figures in the Posthumanocentric approach since there is a need for a concept that deals with encounters between actuals because Deleuze mainly emphasizes continuous differentiation in the virtual and the non-relational character of this process (Hallward, 2006).

I use polyagency to explain how matter changes in encounters that lead to what archaeologists call materiality. Polyagency replaces the quasi-object practice where an external human agency is needed as an active form generator. Therefore it also replaces human agency. The concept relates to the becomings that any actual entity generates. Polyagency begins in the intersection of at least two actuals that share a milieu (Normark, 2006b). The encounter between them releases them from their actualizations, objects, entities, systems, series or organisms and form a new relation (Grosz, 1995: 134). Polyagency is a collective term for processes between actuals whose virtualities generate a multitude of transformations that creates new actual patterns. Polyagency consists of inseparable phases and concepts of becoming/actualization; the in-between, individuation and territorialization.

Polyagency has an intensive character. It is the way two actuals interact and change in relation to each other. This is the same process since, in order for an actual to change, its old actualization needs to be undone/deterritorialized (explained below). This undoing takes place in-between. Two actuals become in their mutual milieu which cannot be given any particular property, quality, identity or form, because if it is represented, it will cease to be intermediary and it will become an object (or a quality or a property). The in-between is neither internal nor external to the actuals in question. Therefore, polyagency lacks a spatial location (Grosz, 1995: 84, 114-116).

This means that when two actuals (such as a causeway and a human) interact they change each other, but this temporal interaction does not primarily take place in either actual since an actual is a static entity devoid of duration. The polyagency is not located in a particular spatial part of an actual, since a broken limestone block still has polyagency. Polyagency is a relation that exists in-between interacting actuals and affects them as a whole, but once the interaction has occurred it has affected the actuals and made a mark in each of them. This is only seen in the actuals as soon as the change has been actualized or reterritorialized and then it has ceased to be in-between. By then the change is immanent to the new actual.

An individuation is the result of self-organizing events that forms a difference between the virtual and its actualization (Ansell Pearson, 1999: 43, 94). I see the individuation of artifacts and architecture as a way to change matter, to make it a difference in kind through symmetry breaking events where matter changes into new forms. Certain points of intensity in the manufacture and handling of materialities change them into a causeway. Every material addition or subtraction changes the actual causeway and generates new individuations. Individuation is also a matter of scale. A causeway is an individuation and so are the various stones in it.

The causeway is an assemblage of singularities that exists through certain operations. Every singularity is a stage in the process of individuation. Users and manufacturers follow the singularities in matter and choose some of them to actualize new forms of material objects (DeLanda, 2002; Deleuze and Guattari, 1988: 406). The past masons created temples, range structures and ballcourts with similar techniques as in the construction of a causeway. They did not just impose a form upon matter, they elaborated a consistent material, and released intensive forces. The masons actualized virtualities in the limestone along divergent lines (DeLanda, 1999: 37).

The world individuates by closure to the external, such as membrane, skin and surface which are territories. A territory is “a mobile and shifting centre that is localizable as a specific point in space and time” (Message, 2005: 274). Territories communicate between interior and exterior and these territories are never absolute (Ansell Pearson, 1999: 210). A destratifying/ deterritorializing process is needed to create technology and architecture from matter. This is when a physical structure/strata is detached from its fixed function and creates a new function (DeLanda, 2002). Chert knappers could not knap (destratify) a chert axe as they wished. They needed to follow the morphology of the chert. A hit with a hammerstone created a break and new forms/territories appeared; the slightly smaller chert core and the new flake. A gold smith needs to follow the melting temperature of gold in order to reterritorialize it to other forms. Likewise, cutting limestone and mining limestone marl changes the actual states of this matter. Today, the way causeways are used as quarries for roads or albarradas (boundary walls without mortar) is also a way to destratify its former constellation.

Thus, although matter is self-organized, there are processes that destratify matter into forms by external agents (external to the object, but immanent to the material meshwork). The actuals can be deterritorialized, such as when limestone boulders are quarried out of the bedrock and then they are reterritorialized with other actuals (saskab, ceramic sherds and soil) to form a causeway in other actualization processes. This actualized causeway is made up by various elements and forms a new territory. Existing social territories may also become deterritorialized, like when social units change their constellations when a causeway is constructed through an older settlement (Normark, 2006b).

In short; a causeway can be seen as a body without organs that has become individuated by the deterritorialization of matter and its reterritorialization into a new entity. The stones in the sidewalls establish a territory that is maintained until the stones are removed. The causeway is a territory and an assemblage different in kind from the actuals that make up its territory (limestone boulders, soil, etc.). This means that the emerging property of the causeway is different in kind from the properties of its parts. However, this actualized entity is always open to its own deterritorialization by erosion, flooding, quarrying, etc. The processes of territorialization do not have any absolute boundaries, since when in the process does the causeway become a causeway? Is it in the staking out of its sidewalls or is it when the space between the sidewalls is filled with material? When does it cease to be a causeway? Is it when half the stones have been removed or when all stones are gone? The answer to these questions is that the causeway is a process of emergent properties, not an entity with essential properties. All materials are therefore spatialized moments of a durational process, they are actual.

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