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108 Theory, Culture & Society 23(23)

assemblage that operates as specific conceptual Virtual Philosophy. London and New York:
combinatories in addressing specific problems. Continuum.
The coherence of the particular combinatory Deleuze, Gilles and Flix Guattari (1988) A
would be grounded in the respect for the general Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi.
principles outlined above. Assemblage is one of the London: Continuum.
terms that today signals the emergence of a new Prigogine, Ilya and Isabelle Stengers (1984) Order
episteme that would be transmodern. out of Chaos. New York: Bantam Books.

References
Couze Venn is Professor of Cultural Theory at
Bateson, Gregory (1980) Mind and Nature. Nottingham Trent University. His latest book is
London: Fontana. The Postcolonial Challenge: Towards Alternative
DeLanda, Manuel (2002) Intensive Science and Futures.

Agencement/Assemblage
John Phillips

Secondly, the translation of agencement by


Keywords arrangement, assemblage, common
assemblage can give rise to connotations based on
notion, Deleuze and Guattari, event, transla-
analogical impressions, which liberate elements of
tion
a vocabulary from the arguments that once helped
form it. One of the earliest attempts to translate
Deleuze and Guattaris use of the term agence-

O
ne of the key problems of global knowledge ment appears in the first published translation, by
concerns the circulation, adoption and Paul Foss and Paul Patton in 1981, of the article
adaptation of concepts in translation. The Rhizome. The English term they use, assemblage,
English word assemblage is gaining currency in the is retained in Brian Massumis later English
humanities and social sciences as a concept of version, when Rhizome appears as the Introduc-
knowledge, but its uses remain disparate and some- tion to A Thousand Plateaus. Since then many
times imprecise. Two factors contribute to the situ- (though by no means all) translators and commen-
ation. First, the concept is normally understood to tators have agreed, in a loose consensus, to keep
be derived from the French word agencement, as to this early translation of agencement by assem-
used in the works of Gilles Deleuze and Flix blage, while acknowledging that the translation is
Guattari (who, furthermore, do not use the French not really a good approximation. Agencement is a
word assemblage in this way). Tracing the concept common French word with the senses of either
in its philosophical sense back to their texts, one arrangement, fitting or fixing and is used in
discovers that it cannot easily be understood except French in as many contexts as those words are
in connection with the development of a complex used in English: one would speak of the arrange-
of such concepts. Agencement implies specific ment of parts of a body or machine; one might talk
connections with the other concepts. It is, in fact, of fixing (fitting or affixing) two or more parts
the arrangement of these connections that gives the together; and one might use the term for both the
concepts their sense. For Deleuze and Guattari, a act of fixing and the arrangement itself, as in
philosophical concept never operates in isolation the fixtures and fittings of a building or shop, or
but comes to its sense in connection with other the parts of a machine.
senses in specific yet creative and often unpre- In contrast, the word assemblage in English
dictable ways. This in connection with already means more or less the same as its actual French
provides something of the sense of agencement, if counterpart, assemblage, a word that Deleuze and
one accepts that a concept arises in philosophy as Guattari use less often and certainly never in a
the connection between a state of affairs and the philosophical sense. It has a more restrictive range
statements we can make about it. Agencement desig- of uses in English. The French will talk about an
nates the priority of neither the state of affairs nor assemblage of different grape varieties or ingredi-
the statement but of their connection, which ents in a recipe and its senses cover blending,
implies the production of a sense that exceeds them collating, gathering and joining. Although it desig-
and of which, transformed, they now form parts. nates a collection of things in English too (as one
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Problematizing Global Knowledge Assemblage 109

of the noun forms of assemble), it is convention- adequate ideas. Knowledge of the world would
ally restricted to more technical terminology: as thus be formed of second-order ideas: concepts that
the collection of remains found on an archeologi- are adequate a good fit to the unities composed
cal site (in a French pronunciation: a-sa-blzh); by bodies in connection.
and in art theory (in both French and English) it The implications for knowledge (although
is a term associated with collage and other avant- these states have powerful implications for onto-
garde or pop art styles, designating works assem- logical questions too) are profound. The traditional
bled out of diverse objects (like Jean Arps Trousse arrangement implies a subject of knowledge sepa-
dun Da, an assemblage of driftwood nailed onto rated out from his objects, which he transforms by
wood with some remains of old painting). making them his project. But this is a kind of
As an imaginative resource for framing objects agencement too an event, a becoming, a compo-
and operations of the social sciences, assemblage sitional unity with sense and a common notion,
remains suggestive. Its use as a translation of agence- to which adequate ideas might be affixed. The
ment, though not entirely without justification, is sense of such a knowing cannot any longer be
nonetheless in danger of missing what is really attributed to the knower, who participates in a
forceful with regard to knowledge in Deleuze and further stage of becoming not reducible to his
Guattaris usage. The most direct connection that knowledge. Deleuze and Guattari, first in their
agencement has for Deleuze would be to his work 1975 book on Franz Kafka, and then in A
from the late 1960s on the philosophy of Spinoza Thousand Plateaus, mobilize this sense of agence-
and the common notion. It also has a very precise ment and the term itself begins to shift, to break
correspondence to the notions of event, becoming up and to participate in further connections. The
and sense, which Deleuze discusses at length in collective agencement of enunciation designates
other works of the same period. A common notion the language system to which all speakers of a
represents the situation when two or more bodies language belong; the social agencement of desire
have something in common. All bodies have in designates the individuals relation to his objects;
common the states of extension, motion and rest; and the machinic agencement exceeds both the
but when two or more bodies come into contact or planes of enunciation and desire, recombining
otherwise enter into a relationship they form a them in further enunciative events.
composition. A common notion is the representation The translation of agencement by assemblage
of this composition as an independent unity. The might have been justified as a further event of
unity, for instance, of a poison and the body agencement (assemblage) were it not for the
poisoned can be regarded as a state of becoming and tendency of discourses of knowledge to operate as
an event which is reducible to neither the body nor statements about states of affairs. The statement,
the poison. The body and the poison, rather, partici- as Deleuze and Guattari tirelessly insist, tends to
pate in the event (which is what they have in undo assemblages, to take things apart, to divide
common). Deleuze brings together readings of things from each other, to divide, fundamentally,
several sources, including Lewis Carrolls Alice, the the subject of the statement (the sense and refer-
philosophy of the Stoics and the writings of surre- ence of a statement) from its enunciation (the
alist Jo Bousquet, to explore the character of conditions on which one can make a statement at
unities like this in terms of their eventness, their all). If the sense of the term assemblage gathers to
sense (sens in the senses of both direction and itself the unity and homogeneity of a theoretical
meaning) and their becoming. While Alice is concept at the level of the statement (which is
growing larger she is in a state of becoming both what agencement allows) then it is also possible to
larger than she was and yet not as large as she will problematize the term, to hook it back up with the
be. The state of becoming regarded as a composi- fittings, fixtures and diverse arrangements that
tional unity thus affixes the two senses of being- help constitute it and help to keep it current.
larger-than and being-smaller-than. This being
between, and the paradoxical senses it produces,
can be brought into contact with the Stoics who John Phillips is Associate Professor in the Depart-
regarded, for instance, the state produced when a ment of English Language and Literature at the
knife cuts through flesh as a separate, abstract state, National University of Singapore. He is the author
which Deleuze develops in terms of the event. The of Contested Knowledge: A Guide to Critical
wound as an event which brings the knife and the Theory (Zed Books, 2000) and has published
flesh together can be reduced to neither knife nor articles on linguistics, psychoanalysis, decon-
flesh. A third sense is produced that corresponds struction, philosophy, literature, urbanism, post-
precisely to Spinozas common notion, and which modernism, critical theory, aesthetics and military
gives rise to the second-order conceptual level of technology.