Assemblage Theory object-oriented rhetoric

invention and operational closure

In the forthcoming Democracy of Objects, Levi Bryant takes up Luhmann's theory of autopoiesis and the concept of "operational closure," which essentially states that systems are self-referential and that they do not relate to their outside environment. Though, as Levi puts it, a system and environment may perturb or irritate each other, information does not pass from one to another: the system produces its own information in response to irritation.

So this gives us a starting point for thinking about invention. Each irritation is a cause for invention. This connects with my previous discussion of object-oriented style and allure. It's maybe easiest to think of this in human terms, but it is crucial to be able to expand this to all objects. Obviously we do not need to "reinvent" the world in each moment, even if we are perpetually refreshing our perceptions. I.e., we have a "refresh rate" just like my computer screen does. Deleuze and Delanda identify multiplicities as objects that maintain the stability of the world. That is, it is because of multiplicities that we do not have a gooey, lava-lampy, oozing materiality. They distinguish between causal and quasi-causal multiplicities. My initial impression, which will require some fleshing out, is that operational closure would be a form of, or even another way of thinking about, causal multiplicities. As Delanda writes in A New Philosophy of Society:

in assemblage theory analysis must go beyond logic and involve causal interventions in reality, such as lesions made to an organ within an organism, or the poisoning of enzymes within a cell, followed by observations of the effect on the whole's behaviour. These interventions are needed because the causal interactions among parts may be nonlinear and must, therefore, be carefully disentangled, and because the entity under study may be composed of parts operating at different spatial scales and the correct scale must be located. In short, analysis in assemblage theory is not conceptual but causal, concerned with the discovery of the actual mechanisms operating at a given spatial scale. (31)

This relates to one of the distinctions that Bryant observes between Maturana/Varela's autopoiesis, which is strictly homeostatic, and Luhmann's, which accounts for the necessity of invention. Here we can see that causal multiplicities can pass along intensities that are nonlinear. That is, operational closure may mean that my eyes produce information based upon the irritation of light on the retina and do so based upon internal demands (think here about Maturana/Varela's experiment with the visual cortex of frogs), but that does not mean that I might not see something that generates an affective intensification. This would be a kind of nonlinear response.

But we can go a little further than this. Since in OOO objects are withdrawn not only from one another but also from themselves, one has to ask what exactly is being closed upon? I believe we would have to say that perception seeks to close upon an object that is always already withdrawing from that perceptual operation. Here is where we introduce the quasi-cause, which, as Delanda succinctly puts it (in Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy),  "is defined not by its giving rise to multiplicities but by its capacity to affect them. ‘The quasi-cause does not create, it operates’, as Deleuze says." Put differently we might say that quasi-causal multiplicities establish the topological constraints of an assemblage but are virtual and mechanism-independent. I see quasi-causes as another way to approach what Bryant refers to as "virtual proper being." In Democracy of Objects, Bryant explains that virtual proper being consists of powers rather than qualities. (I would quote directly, but since the book isn't formally published yet, perhaps Levi has made some changes from the version I read. However, I am quite certain that this concept will remain.) This strikes me as quite like the notion of the quasi-cause as the capacity to affect. Quasi-causes are bi-directional in their indeterminacy. That is, because quasi-causes do not impart determinate effects upon objects, they do not require determinable knowledge of the object they are affecting. As such, the withdrawn nature of objects is not relevant here as the quasi-cause does not seek to shape an object's characteristics but rather establishes the non-determining operations by which objects unfold to produce elements and relations. 

Admittedly, that's a technical explanation. Let me see if I can steer this toward rhetorical invention. As I noted in my earlier post (and above), stylistic allure can perturb/irritate an object. Typically, we seek to organize our perceptions according to existing sensual objects. This creates the mundane, steady-state experience of daily life. BTW, this steady state experience does not correspond to a Cartesian mapping of the world but is rather a proprioceptive embedding in a topological space (I discuss this in Two Virtuals, but I digress). Allure, though, is an intensification/disruption of the mundane experience. It is the production of affect that escapes capture, passing synaesthetically across systems, or creating a kind of system breaking intensification. In other words, we might think of invention like water coming to a boil on a stove. As the water heats up, it continues to accept the irritation of heat but manages, through the steady state process of conduction, to maintain the homeostasis of the water in the pot. Eventually though, the water begins to boil, and though we can predict the boiling point, we can't predict the particular bubbles that will burst from the surface. Those bubbles, though, are shaped in a quasi-causal way.

The invention of ideas is similar by analogy. For example, we read and read, creating information in our brains in a steady state way. Then, either slowly or suddenly, there is an intensification and an idea bubbles to the surface. The process of operational closure, which allows us to read, is continuing to function in the same way, but inasmuch as the operation is closing upon a virtual and withdrawn object, that closure can never be complete. Quasi-causal multiplicities account for the ways in which our relations with other objects result in non-deterministic, affective, intensive outcomes. We know that the heating of the water will eventually result in boiling. With somewhat less certainty, we know that reading will eventually result in a new idea. We don't know what bubbles will appear in the water; we don't know what idea will occur.

In this respect, the withdrawn nature of objects, their virtual proper being (in Levi's terms), is necessary for change. That's maybe surprising because we look at OOO and say it struggles with accounting for becoming. However in the same way that OOO surprisingly makes the study of relation so much more interesting, it also opens a new way to think about becoming. The withdrawn nature of objects means that perception can never be complete in its operational closure, even as it regularly operates to that effect. Because objects withdraw from their own perceptual processes and encounter non-determining quasi-causes with their capacities to affect, invention occurs and change is possible.