Assemblage Theory object-oriented rhetoric

rip-mix-burn systems

One of my favorite ways to compose blog posts is to bring together material I encounter along separate lines of inquiry and see what happens. To be honest, that's my primary mode of composition, period. It's how I wrote music and poetry, long ago, when those were my things. It's how I teach and how I conduct my research. In The Two Virtuals I took up the familiar digital mantra of "rip-mix-burn" to describe this method.

So here is DJ Spooky and cellist Joshua Roman producing a remix of Radiohead's "Everything in its right place," and I want to think about this in conversation with Levi Bryant's post today on Luhmann's antagonistic commons.

DJ Spooky + Joshua Roman » Radiohead from The Voice Project on Vimeo.

Levi takes up Luhmann's argument that autopoietic systems perpetuate themselves through the production of differences, and he uses the news media's habit of presenting "topics" and then offering differeing viewpoints as an example of that process. I appreciate this exploration, and I think that the news media is a tough example to employ as it gets us buried so quickly in ideological assumptions. As such I think a more general theory of difference, repetition and autopoiesis might be seen in this video, which we might than carry to a consideration of media.

If I were to take my earlier considertation of rip, mix, burn and move it toward an object-oriented rhetoric, I might do something like this. Ripping is the act of the sensorium, of exposure to an outside, through ripping we create sensual objects perhaps, but we also experience alllure, encounter Morton's "strange stranger:" ripping is the introduction of affect and information-as-force. Mixing then is the emergent process of assemblages that extend from the virtual to the actual. The process occurs within an object, but within a withdrawing object, so closure is maybe never fully closed. That's the virtual. In any case, here is where we describe the emergence of a thought. As that thought then becomes expressed in language-perhaps said or written down-it is burned into an object in its own right. As Harman points out, the thing about sensual objects is that they depend on us to exist. Once we express our thoughts however, they become objects capable of establishing their own interactions. They are beyond us and withdraw from us, their putative creators. 

Now, what do we see in this video? Remix. On what level is there new information here? Watch the video a second time, is there new information? Maybe something you missed? Watch it 100 times. Is there still new information? Is there an asymptotic approach toward zero information, a law of diminishing returns? Now watch it again, with a friend who has never seen it before. Read Levi's post and watch it again. Information is clearly relational, yes? Students can get this easily confused and think this means that texts can mean anything. Not exactly. Relational means that information and meaning result from a particular network of objects, so of course the objects themselves count! That's the point of saying meaning is relational. 

By the way, that's what makes the remix so powerful and interesting as an icon of composition (in lieu of inspiration as ex nihilo invention). You watched the video, right? I don't know. Maybe you don't like Radiohead. Nevertheless we can remark on the relational system at work here, not just within these two artists' heads but among them and their instruments. Furthermore, we can look at the iPad in DJ Spooky's hand and begin to think about the larger media system at work there (by the way, we can do the same thing with the cello, right?). The iPad, the cello: here is a topology of autopoeitic differences reproducing in relation to one another. The cello and cellist induce a system of differential responses from the iPad and iPad user, and visa versa. That is, play your cello, use your iPad somewhere else and get a different result. 

I think this is where we begin in analyzing the composition of media systems. And then when we turn to the news media with their news cycle and slate of readymade topics we can begin to think about the territorializing forces that regulate the behavior of those systems. In the video above, there are rhythmic and harmonic multiplicities that regulate differential responses. One might find analogous multiplicities at work in media systems. Of course we always want to rush to ideology in the way that CNN or Fox presents the news. And while I do not want to deny the existence of the effects we attribute to ideology, nor the consistency of those effects, like Latour, I am not ready to jump some spectral force, either divine or infernal. Instead, I would prefer to examine the systematic operation of the news in a language that would remain consonant with an explanation of why and how this mustical remix can happen.

In fact, let me take this one step farther and ask you to check out the Voice Project that the above video is a part of. This is what it's about:

A peace movement is an incredible thing, people coming together, mobilizing like an army, and in this case armed not with guns but with songs and something more powerful than than any bullet; compassion, the strength of human will, and determination.

For over two decades war has ravaged Northern Uganda. It is Africa’s longest running conflict and it has spread to Southern Sudan and Eastern Congo. Joseph Kony’s LRA has made abducting children and forcing them to fight his chief weapon of war, even making them kill their friends and family members. Many abductees and former soldiers escape but hide in the bush, afraid to return home because of reprisals for the atrocities they were forced to commit.

The women of Northern Uganda – widows, rape survivors, and former abductees have been banding together in groups to support each other and those orphaned by the war and diseases so prevalent in the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps. And they are singing songs. The lyrics let the former soldiers know that they are forgiven and that they should come home. The songs are passed by radio and word of mouth out into the bush, as far as the Sudan and DR Congo. And it’s working. Former LRA are returning and for the first time 24 years the region has a chance at real peace.

The Voice Project is an attempt to support these incredible women and the peace movement in Uganda, and an effort to see how far a voice can carry.

Who can speak to the effectiveness of such a movement or practice? It is a practice hinged on remix, rehearsal, and replay. It is a media system with its own topology intersecting those of more familiar systems: a point of contact between Ugandan women, the Internet, famous musicians, etc. What happens when you place the video and performance above in that new relation? New information? Does it sound different? Should it? In any case, if we want to think about ideologies at work in media systems, we can see how complex they can be, how rich and complicated the exchange of forces and possible reversals. 

#plaa{position:absolute;clip:rect(438px,auto, auto,438px);}