Posted by: Johan Normark | April 15, 2009

PA 3 – Virtual, intensive, and actual

In order to explain the theoretical foundation and the application of posthumanocentric archaeology on empirical data, I will continue with the ontological ideas of the virtual and the actual as they are formulated by Deleuze and DeLanda. These ideas will take us closer to understanding how the changing process (the virtual) forms systems, entities or assemblages (actuals) that archaeologists usually ascribe ontological security and/or transcendence. What will be learnt is that the virtual is immanent in matter and that the “social” world can be reached from its local actuals/ material properties, rather than from a transcendent realm of humanocentric concepts.

The virtual contains the way systems behave in their intensive and actual conditions. It provides non-metric intensive processes (temperature, pressure, social action) that create different actuals (entities with metric properties). The virtual is a continuum of heterogeneous multiplicities, or sets of singularities. A singularity is where a process is intensified, concentrated, differentiated and thereby changes direction, like when water boils or a group of people forms or dissolves. The singularities are distributed by an abstract machine (aka diagram), that forms a plane of consistency. The abstract machine is what keeps heterogeneous parts together, into a consistent working unity, like in Foucault’s panopticon. This abstract machine cannot be given a static essential identity as it coincides with the changing assemblage of which the panopticon is a part.

Deleuze’s virtual is the ontological counterpart of a system’s state space. The French mathematician Henri PoincarĂ© introduced the concept of the self-differentiating state space to visualize how dynamical systems behave. There are three basic constituents in the state space: (1) The distribution of singularities forms a dynamical space that includes behavioral patterns (attractors). Attractors determine the regions of the state space (basins of attraction) and they form critical points in a system’s history. (2) Bifurcators are lines of flight where state spaces cross thresholds and are changed from one region to another. (3) In symmetry-breaking events the bifurcators are clustered and increase the effects to produce new sets of attractors and bifurcators.

Intensive processes can only change beyond a critical threshold by also changing in kind (also known as becoming). An example of an intensive process is boiling water that change in kind by becoming gas. This is a symmetry breaking event that generates a new symmetry of water where water assumes new potentials (steam to be used for steam engines rather than liquid water for drinking). Deleuze sees the actual/extensive as a steady state (homeostasis) at the end of self-organisations of the virtual continuum. The actual forms emerge through a cascade of intensive symmetry breaking events. The liquid water is an actual multiplicity as is water in gaseous form. It is an individual singularity (haecceity) since it is a multiplicity that always will differentiate from its current steady state. It also forms assemblages with other individual singularities through the process just described.

DeLanda applies these processes on social situations and therefore he relies far more on complexity theory than Deleuze himself. For example, haecceities like people form an organization through attraction (people gathering), bifurcation (the gathering transform each individual’s goals and functions) and symmetry breaking (the transformations are substantial enough to form an organization with goals and functions different in kind from its parts. New sets of attractors and bifurcators are formed with the emergent organization). The emergent organization is then a new individual singularity with multiple parts. The organization is hold together by an abstract machine.

What this short journey into Deleuze’s and DeLanda’s reworking of complexity theory shows is that there is no easy tracing of relations. We cannot go directly from the actual (the artifact) to the intensive process (the social action) associated with it. We have to map by cartography. The extensive and intensive properties of an assemblage are first mapped to find its degree of freedom. The starting point is the virtual structure, the abstract machine, that gives rise to the assemblage by continuously changing. This virtuality is immanent in material assemblages, not in a transcendent culture beyond materialities and humans.

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