Posted by: Johan Normark | October 16, 2009

Facing the future

My research on caves and climate change is soon entering the second half (time wise at least). Where am I going after this? I am taking what may appear to be a radical turn. Instead of focusing on global and regional climate change and macroscale settlement patterns related to the Chicxulub fracture zone, I am planning to look at political affect from a neuroarchaeological perspective. The scale of research is therefore neurons, senses, and how these affect and are being affected by other assemblages. As strange as it may appear, this is actually related to my current research since I make use of an ontology of flow and complexity that works on many scales.

I will make use of a non-representational view of cognition that also see the mind and body as extended. Living bodies do not negotiate their worlds by representing them to themselves, but rather by feeling what can be and cannot be done in a particular situation. Spinoza defines affect as the body’s capability to act and to be acted upon. It has two registers (being affected by an encounter and the change in power of the body). An encounter can enhance the power of one body, it can decrease both bodies, or it can increase both. Once you move into an assemblage you are depersonalized or deterritorialized and new habits form. As John Protevi says: “Affect is the feeling for this variation; it is de-personalizing intensity as opening up access to the virtual, to the differential field, Idea, or multiplicity of the situation… It is the feeling of change in relation to bodies entering a new assemblage…and the feeling of how the present feeling might vary in relation to what might happen next in a variety of futures” (Protevi 2008:16).

I will make use of various assemblages on various scales. The Face in Maya iconography will be my point of departure and I will work myself upwards and downwards in scale. Hence I intend not to see the face as the face of a fixed represented subject. It will rather be the flow of subjectivity affecting its surroundings. These faces are neither seen as representations but rather as constituent parts of assemblages that creates various regimes of signs.

I will see the workshop on the “archaeology of the senses” at Stockholm University as the first step. But, as Ingold shows with the “anthropology of the senses”, this is still a field too caught up in the Cartesian dualism between mind and matter. Deleuze, Bergson, and Spinoza will be my main sources of inspiration to deterritorialize this view.



  1. Wonderful! Mayan faces from your philosophy is sure to be fascinating. Faces will be a brand just like El Mirador.

  2. you do have well organized methodologies on your recherches, and I believe you approach will be very enlightening to read when published.

  3. You are a seriously bright guy, this takes 10 readings to even get a semblance of understanding (for me). Suffice to question you direction of causality ? surely, the neural determines the phenotypical ? I read this as implying the opposite, maybe I’m very wrong…,

  4. Johan,I can’t quite see what you are getting at.Please enlighten a poor Englishman,whose first language is English.

    Kind regards,Simon

  5. Sue and Sibel: Thanks, it will take some time before this get published although I am working on an article that combines these ideas with water, rain and caves (some of my recent posts have focused on this).

    Phil: I would say that the neural and the phenotypical are interacting without anyone taking a dominant role. They both become part of the same assemblage and it is the assemblage that exercises constraints and potentials.

    Simon: Basically, I wish to see how people emerge and evolve as subjects. These are not predetermined but change according to contexts. By using the face (as the centre of identity) I attempt to explore the parts (such as eyes and sight, ear and hearing, etc) that forms the subject and how these interact with greater assemblages that are phenotypical. For example, often we find the eyes of the portraits hacked out. This is part of a political assemblage where enemies to the ruler erased his all seeing vision.

  6. I appreciate your research and trying to understand as I know not so much about anthropology but I have interest in Maya civilization.

  7. the article is so exclusive too read. I learn many things from this article.


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