Posted by: Johan Normark | September 23, 2011

DeLanda’s Deleuze vs the Bergsonian Deleuze

I must admit that my recent interest in object-oriented-ontology has been emerging in tandem with my declining interest in Deleuze. After a while I usually get to a point when I think that I no longer have anything new to gain from reading more of a philosopher or an anthropologist. Most thinkers tend to repeat themselves (just like myself). My declining interest in Deleuze has to do with my focus on the DeLandian “faction” of Deleuzean studies, i.e. the one that transforms Deleuze into a complex system theorist (also advanced by Protevi). Now, I have never been a great fan of complex system theory in archaeology so why should I be seduced by it through the alternative words of DeLanda and Protevi instead? Do not get me wrong. Both DeLanda and Protevi have made interesting studies in their own right but most of it could have been done without the Deleuzean vocabulary. There is no longer any major difference between thermodynamics and Deleuze in DeLanda’s writing.

After reading several texts by Harman and other object-oriented people I pretty much see similar lines of thought there as well. Put simply, parts make up a greater whole and the whole affects its parts (a standpoint I do agree with though). Objects/assemblages/systems/networks are more or less the same idea and the differences are not that great after all (at least not from my nonanthropocentric archaeological standpoint). For a philosopher focusing on ontology it may be important to distinguish if relations only are internal to an essential object or if they are external to a nonessential assemblage. The way we can interpret the end products of these different kinds of relations are quite similar in an archaeological context. I simply cannot make too much interpretation with a completely nonanthropocentric perspective. Maybe I should reformulate my future project that I originally labeled something like “a nonanthropocentric archaeological study of the human.”

Anyway, I have set my own diagnosis and I realize why I began to feel bored by reading DeLanda’s latest book. There is no longer the slightest trace of the Bergsonian current in DeLanda’s Deleuze. I am currently taking notes from a couple of books on Deleuze that I read a while ago, books that emphasize Bergson’s influence on Deleuze. It was that part that originally brought me to Deleuze. Suddenly I began to take some interest in Deleuze again. Let’s just see if I can merge these Bergsonian ideas with the object-oriented archaeological perspective that I have begun to sketch on. In any case I hope to be able to cover the main themes in OOO before Christmas and focus on the more empirical part of my water project.



  1. What kind of bergsonism would you want to restore? It seems to me that a bergsonian Deleuze is harder to incorporate in an ooo framework than a delandian Deleuze.

    However, I do agree that the complexity trail is a bit tiresome (I don’t think I will be too excited by Levi Bryants new book…). Can you do anything above explaining the selforganization of energymatter into form – which is but one of gazillions of possible qualities an object can “have”/execute?

    • I have been on the “nonanthropocentric” trail since 2003 or so, long before I even encountered DeLanda’s writing and I found that trail in Bergson (originally via Elisabeth Grosz).

      I like the way Bergson sees the vegetative, instinct, and intelligence as different tendencies of consciousness, how consciousness is a way to delay responses. The later Deleuze also turned away from evolution which I still find to be a relevant concept.

  2. Ah – interesting to see that you are also drifting towards the triple-o camp! (As for myself, I haven’t really decided.)

    It will be exciting to see what you can do with the “triple-o meets Bergson” angle. I was under the impression that the former crowd were more into DeLanda (seeing him as a step in the right realist direction), than Bergsonian “virtualism” and “firehose metaphysics”?

    • Sure, Harman is a “fan” of DeLanda and both DeLanda and Protevi are included in the Speculative Realism volume. Maybe I am naive or misinformed but I do believe Bergson can be read in a realist fashion as well. I simply do not buy the whole actualist focus of Harman’s version. Since I deal with ancient activities being preserved or visible in contemporary (actual) artifacts I have to believe that some of the object’s past external relations can be traceable.

  3. Interesting. But whatever traces of past external relations that can be found in an ancient artifact, are there because they have been translated into some internal relations and are as such quite actual. I don’t understand how insisting on actualism changes the situation for the archaeologist.

    • True, that is also how I see traces on artifacts or on the ground, as actuals. What I do want to add and maintain from Deleuze is that these are actualizations of intensive processes. Cutting meat with a flint knife made marks on the stone but archaeologists are interested in the activity/event/process of cutting meat and its greater “social context” rather than the object itself. Of course one could say that the past cutting of meat formed another object/assemblage (knife-meat-hand) but I lack the other parts of this assemblage. I am stuck with only one part. In the knife I therefore see traces of something that is not an object. If the flint is not of local origin I can also say it has evidence of being transported/traded. If the knife is found in a tomb it is also evidence of a burial ritual, status, gender, etc. All these qualities can also be lined up in a temporal sequence where not all of these qualities were actual at the same moment. But what to make of them all taken together in a sequence of 2000 years? Only the object has remained but not the interactions it took part of. Those are the ones I am interested in.

      • Yes. Well put! We’re all on the same page here, I think, and I see no problem with an oo ontology here.

        Have you ever thought of archaeology in terms of (nonanthropocentic) media theory? That is, how marks on a knife mediates a cutting activity in much the same way as soundwaves in air mediates a vibrating-activity of some other object.

  4. I saw that Bryant mentions media theory in his “class as hyperobject” article in Speculations II and it seems to be a usuable idea. The knife communicates the cutting activity to me, but only if I have a microscope to see the marks. It will not communicate the same thing to a non-archaeologist. The cutting activity will be withdrawn from the latter person. This is not too far from Bergson’s argument that we only choose the images that interest us. Disorder is simply an order that does not interest us. An archaeologist will choose the cutting-image for his/her purpose.

    • Yes, exactly. I think an anthropo-de-centralized McLuhan can do some good…

      Also, another concept that could be useful is Lingis’ imperative, that I guess is somewhat intuitively deployed in archaeology already: “This artefact is a hammer because it works when you try to use it as a hammer.” Every object comes with an imperative telling other objects that encounter it how it “wishes” to be perceived, handled and so on. Maybe it can be connected to your concept of polyagency?

      At any rate, you can derive the techniques that were used to handle a piece of flint, a bow and arrow or something like that, from simply experimenting with it until you find a way that works…

      See what I’m getting at?

      • I definitely need to take a look at both McLuhan and Lingis.

        Experimental archaeology works for tool making, ceramics, etc. It is a bit more complicated when we try to understand the complexities of a burial ceremony (such as the Mesolithic skulls from Motala). Experiments cannot be made and if we could it would not take us anywhere.

        I have not seen much in-depth OOO analyses of more complex scenarios like the burial site mentioned above. Anecdotal examples from here and there do not work for me. I get the feeling (wrong perhaps) that OOO people pick a topic and leave it once they have written a blog post about it. I would like to see that they make an analysis of, let’s say, the Norwegian massacre. Protevi could do that from a Deleuzean perspective (not to dissimilar to the Columbine massacre). How would an object-oriented researcher go about? The above problem is also found in Bergson’s writings. There is little there for making such analyses.

      • As for polyagency, I dislike the term I coined since it still has the word “agency” in it and it reminds me too much of Giddens and other agent oriented perspectives that actually was trying to move away from. I did not want to use actant as a term either since I included virtuality and not just actual states. After my dissertation I simply dropped the term, but unfortunately also the Bergsonian ideas that I used to formulate it…

  5. Come to think of it: do Bergson ever talk about “flows”, does he not only talk about “continuity”? Somehow these two have been conflated into the same idea. Contraction and release is not the same as flow either. Do the flow “metaphor” come from the focus on speed? I do not see how we are surrounded by flows. Time does not flow in Bergson. Flow means that something traverses space and that would imply a spatialized time. Not exactly what Bergson had in mind.


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