Monday, January 23, 2017


Grad seminar add your comments below for Chapter 2.


  1. The section when Bennett discuses the role of intention in an assemblage really raised some questions for me. On page 34 she says, "Human intentionality is positioned as the most important of all agential factors, the bearer of an exceptional kind of power". After reading this I began to wonder if nonhuman things can have intention other than those set upon it by humans. For example, the electricity moving through the power lines, Bennett seems to suggest that it has an intention in its traveling. When the power line went down it turned around and re-routed to travel a different way. However, I feel that this action is not really by its own intention, but rather is just following out an intention placed upon it by man. The power plant that generates the electricity sends it out through the power lines with the intention of it reaching the consumer. I then began to consider the difference between intention and reaction. While I am able to see that my dog is intentionally coming to sit at my feet in hope of me giving him food as I eat, I do not see the same sort of intention in my house plants. They simply react to their environment. The amount of humidity in the air, the direction and amount of light coming in through the window, the amount of water they receive, these things all impact the way they grow and they simply respond to their environment. I don't believe that the leaves intend to grow one direction of another, but rather they exist through a series of reactions. Bennett then says on page 37, "Humans and their intentions participate, but they are not always the most profound actants in the assemblage". To me, that sort of summed up the role of different powers within an assemblage. Humans have their intentions, but other powers contribute as "actants". Sometimes these actants have a stronger impact on the assemblage, with or without the intention to do so.

  2. Also, the whole time I was reading this chapter I was thinking about this scene from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

  3. Thingness disadvantages
    -tends to overstate the thinness or fixed stability of materially, whereas my goal is to theory a materiality that is as much force as entity, as much energy as matter, as much intensity as extension
    -latent individualism

    A lot happens to the concept of agency once nonhuman things are figured less as social constructions and more as actors, and once humans themselves are assessed not as autonomous but as vital materialities -- but humans are autonomous???

    Affective Bodies - Spinoza
    power of a body to affect other bodies
    acting and suffering action
    - neither subject nor object but GOD or NATURE

    mode-form alliances and enter assemblages

    "bodies enhance their power in or as a heterogeneous assemblage"
    Bodies strive for enactment of their own power
    -affective bodies enter into alliances and relationships with other affective bodies in order to increase their power

    Efficacy - different actants

    trajectory - No messiah - we must wait but on the assumption that the one we wait for cannot ever arrive

    causality - emergent and fractal

    allied elements moving together

    Agency lies in assemblages rather than intentional human subjects - holding people accountable makes no sense

    Assemblages are not governed by any central head
    -effects generated by an assemblage are emergent properties
    ----Ex. newly inflected materialism, a blackout, a hurricane, a war on terror

  4. I found The Agency of Assemblage a very interesting text. Bennet talks about Spinoza’s “affective” and Deleuze and Guattari’s “assemblage” and she suggests that a thing’s “efficacy or agency depends on the collaboration, cooperation, or interactive interference of many bodies and forces” (21) she is interested in looking at nonhuman entities in terms of agency as vital materials. To explain and develop the idea of distributive agency, she gives an example of the effect of a power blackout that affected 50 million people in the United States in 2003. She takes the electrical power grid as an agnatic assemblage.
    If we accept the fact that we are part of a complex assemblage, then we can never isolate any thing as the ultimate cause of an event. For almost everything that I think of any attempt to put a single cause would immediately fail. It is a wise perspective to consider all elements not as only causes, but vibrant octants. We are living in an interconnected web. but I'm not sure about the intentions of non-humans. I know that every thing is information and a kind of intelligence but it is hard to see that as intention.
    Agency can also be understood by a specific arrangement of things. The composition of forces, or combination of elements being able to move together. Every place is an arrangement of element in a particular form which is ever-changing and mobile. A place can be once combined of particular vibe of people, insects, air currents, sounds, objects and another time different. Once might be consist of a milder flow of energy another time a more dramatic force capable of a political movement.

  5. Assemblage: ad hoc (concerned with a particular end or purpose) groupings of diverse elements, of vibrant matter of all sorts. They are living networks that are able to function despite confusion of systems, "energies," from within. Similar to what we learned in chapter 1, about how vibrant matter is not hierarchical, these assemblages do not have a "central head." She uses the 2003 Blackout as an example for an assemblage. Bennet dissects this event through pointing out the mix of actancts that contributed to this large power grid failure (Example similar to Arab Spring). However, this chain of events caused unforeseen actions that we could not have predicted. The vital materialist would describe this assemblage as being "subject to the slight surprise of action."

    So can we ever place blame? To Jane Bennet, not technically, but we can instead change/affect systems that would alter certain results. Noortje Marres states, "It is often hard to grasp just what the sources of agency are that make a particular event happen and that this ungraspability may be an essential aspect of agency." But we do have a "political responsibility" to help/assist/ these assemblages so that blackouts like the one in 2003 or events like the BP oil spill, the Arab Spring, the Iraq War (Jane Bennet's thoughts)could be possibly circumvented. Great, but let's go back to a question that seemed to be problematic: Can an individual be fully to blame for an event? Bennet says, "In emphasizing the ensemble nature of action and the interconnections between persons and things, a theory (so is this her belief? we know she only makes empirical claims, supposedly)of vibrant matter presents individuals as simply INCAPABLE of bearing FULL responsibility for their effects. Now Bennet is not stating here that we do not seek out "sources of harmful effects" within the assemblage, but how can an event that has occurred by an individual not be placed on the individual? Murder? Rape? BP Oil Spill, 9/11 Terrorist attacks of 2001. Can there be assemblages where you can place blame? Or are actancts always equally to blame? Because Bennet believes that you cannot operate under moralized politics (right and wrong/good and evil, so are we talking about relativism?), and have "singular agents" to "pay for their sins," then how do we fix these systems? I believe her answer would be through government regulations. Just my thoughts though, interesting points.

    [Personal example of an assemblage: I wake up that morning. The windows are all fogged up. Henry has been sleeping on my legs all night. I grab some cold water out of the fridge and realize I didn't fill it up last night. Great, warm water. My watch says 8:34. I woke up late again. I fill a ziplock bag of cheerios and head to class. Henry is upset with me. There are swarms of people at the bus stop. I walk past them and miss the light to cross 13th. 8:38. It is going to be hard to get all of my bells resined today. Just as I walk up to the art building it starts sprinkling. No resin. The day continues like this. It is 6:08 now. I have arrived a little earlier for critique and gaze at the work displayed. I don't like it.] Now, for Bennet this would be an assemblage (right?). And I remember one time Sergio said that all of these assemblages affect how we feel, think, operate. He used the example of "if I had just had sex right before critique or had a ham sandwich," maybe this assemblage would produce a response from me of "I like it." ] So everything is an interconnected, web of human and nonhuman actancts that make a whole. (side note: but can an assemblage ever end?)

    Have you guys seen the movie “Still-Life?” Made me think of Bennet’s ideas of assemblages.

  6. Although this reading was still difficult for me to get through, I can associate with some main points in the reading, especially in the beginning where Bennett claims thing-power has advantages of calling to mind a childhood sense of the world. Children never seem to have a problem imaginating / creating and the ability to draw alternative realities about materials / items is interesting. It makes me questions associations and the way society claims certain associations to things that we have no control over. For example orange will always be the color orange because we teach that color is orange, but what if people started to learn just by doing / their own experiences and never knew that that specific color was called orange. It might just bring up / evolve the same way. Anyways this is kind of besides the point of the reading.

    An interesting suggestion is that "more kind of bodies with which a body can affiliate, the better" I'm curious how this breaks down in terms of assemblage, specifically for beings of different kinds. Humans might feel "more capable of being affected in many ways" by associating themselves with other humans, but not necessarily "dog" bodies. But then within this assemblage can all bodies respond better / be more capable of thinking within this assemblage. Some people prefer to be alone how does this effect their "capability of thinking"

    When discussing the electrical power grid, I was captivated by the description of this assemblage and although these elements of the assemblage work together, their condition does not rise to the level of an organism, according to Bennett. I enjoyed that FirstEnergy's analysis needed to take into account the fact that power took a route from producer to buyer in an unintended path. This "surprise" was a result of the power needed to flow somewhere and sometimes going where we sent it but sometimes choosing its own path on the spot. At this point humans may have created all these devices to thrive / be prevalent but at some point the object (in this case electricity) has taken it's own path / definition. Does this not constituent an organism? This idea reminds me of the movie Her, where humans created a program to help them (Siri Max) and at the end of the movie, this program ends up evolving and leaving the humans to exist only in their programed world. Although this system was created by humans and doesn't necessarily breath air, does this not constitute the assemblage of a once material object, but now organism?

  7. In this section, Bennett is talking about the assemblage. According to Bennett assemblages are "ad hoc groupings of diverse elements, of vibrant materials of all sorts. they are living, throbbing confederations that are able to function despite the persistent presence of energies that confound them from within. She uses the example of the electrical grid as an example of the assemblage and how it works together.

    What I am most interested in this section, is Bennett's continual reference back to morality and Kant. I am trying to understand how these references and connections relate to that of the assemblage.

    I am also interested in her explanation of Derrida. In this section on page 32, she accounts for a longing or "missing piece" that we all have. I have found satisfaction for this longing, but I am interested in why others refuse to acknowledge what that longing is and rather go on longing and searching for something to fill the void in their life.