Things matter

This essay may seem a bit, well, unrelated to my own research, but I think it’s highly important when it comes to understanding why I focus on things instead of people. I mean studying language in the absence of people may seem odd and I hope that this in part clarifies the rationale to it. Anyway, I’ll start with something that may seem particularly unrelated, but it should make sense eventually.

In ‘The Logic of Sense’ Deleuze (52) states that an ideal event is “a singularity – or rather a set of singularities or of singular points[.]” He (52) elaborates:

“Singularities are turning points and points of inflection; bottlenecks, knots, foyers, and centers; points of fusion, condensation and boiling; points of tears and joy, sickness and health, hope and anxiety, ‘sensitive’ points. Such singularities, however, should not be confused either with the personality of the one expressing herself in discourse, or with the individuality of a state of affairs designated by a proposition, or even with the generality or universality of a concept signified by a figure or a curve. The singularity belongs to another dimension that of denotation, manifestation, or signification. It is essentially pre-individual, non-personal, and a-conceptual. It is quite indifferent to the individual and the collective, the personal and the impersonal, the particular and the general – and to their oppositions. Singularity is neutral. On the other hand, it is not ‘ordinary’: the singular point is opposed to the ordinary.”

While he gives a number of examples of what singularities are, the concept may remain somewhat murky. What I get from this is that they are not things, this and/or that. In ‘L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze’ or ‘Gilles Deleuze from A to Z’, as it is translated to English, a compilation of interviews conducted in 1988 and 1989 by Claire Parnet, when addressing the letter U (‘U comme Un’), Deleuze argues against the popular opinion that philosophy and science have to do with universals (I’ve made minor edits to Charles Stivale’s translation):

“But even if you take a formula like ‘all bodies fall’, what is important is not that all bodies fall. What’s important is the fall and the singularities of the fall. Even [if] scientific singularities – for example, mathematical singularities in functions, or physical singularities, or chemical singularities, points of congealing, etc. – were … all reproducible, well fine, and then what? These are secondary phenomena, processes of universalization, but what science addresses is not universals, but singularities, points of congealing: when does a body change its state, from the liquid state to the solid state, etc. … [O]ne always finds oneself in multiplicities. Multiplicities are aggregates of singularities. The formula for multiplicities and for an aggregate of singularities is n [-] 1, that is, the One is what must always be subtracted. … Hence, the formula is n [-] 1, suppress the unity, suppress the universal.”

While what’s presented in ‘The Logic of Sense’ is in part reiterated in the interview, I find the clarification helpful. Why? Because here it’s clear that there are things, this and/or that, but they are not what we should be focusing on. The lengthy interview is helpful in clarifying other concepts as well, so it’s well worth the watch, especially if his writing comes across as obscure and/or convoluted. Deleuze is at times even quite candid, so it also has entertainment value to it. Similarly, following Pierre Rosenstiehl and Jean Petitot, Deleuze and Guattari (17) state in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ that “n is in fact always n – 1.” They (21) further elaborate the concept of rhizome:

“The rhizome is reducible neither to the One nor the multiple. It is not the One that becomes Two or even directly three, four, five, etc. It is not a multiple derived from the One, or to which One is added (n + 1). It is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object, which can be laid out on a plane of consistency, and from which the One is always subtracted (n – 1).”

So, going from singularities to multiplicities, the point is that in order to address the One, it must be subtracted from the multiplicity, which isn’t a mere collection of Ones, One times times more than One. A multiplicity is not a sum of parts. Multiplicity is not the same as multiple. Following Gilbert Simondon and rejecting hylomorphism (formmatter), Deleuze and Guattari (408) provide an example:

“On the one hand, to the formed or formable matter we must add an entire energetic materiality in movement, carrying singularities or haecceities that are already like implicit forms that are topological, rather than geometrical, and that combine with processes of deformation: for example, the variable undulations and torsions of the fibers guiding the operation of splitting wood. On the other hand, to the essential properties of the matter deriving from the formal essence we must add variable intensive affects, now resulting from the operation, now on the contrary making it possible: for example, wood that is more or less porous, more or less elastic and resistant. At any rate, it is a question of surrendering to the wood, then following where it leads by connecting operations to a materiality, instead of imposing a form upon a matter: what one addresses is less a matter submitted to laws than a materiality possessing a nomos. One addresses less a form capable of imposing properties upon a matter than material traits of expression constituting affects.”

To summarize Simondon’s criticism of hylomorphism, Deleuze and Guattari (409) add that, for Simondon, the issue is that form and matter are seen as separate from one another, defined separately, form imposing itself on matter. They (408-409) refer woodworking, an example also found in Simondon’s ‘L’individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information’. In it, Simondon (53) addresses the differences between working with and against the grain. I can’t say I’m a carpenter, but I do remember being told this a number of times when working on wood during industrial arts classes in school. It had to do with using a hand plane tool, not going against the grain. It’s not specifically what Simondon addresses, he (53) discusses sawing beams, but in general we’re discussing the same thing, working with the wood, not against it, taking the imbued tensions of the wood into account. I guess you could also say the same about chopping firewood. A log is no good as firewood, so you need to chop it up. Typically firewood is split with a maul (axe) along its grain, not against it. Of course in order to do that, you need to go against the grain, to cut the wood, a log, into smaller segments. Fair enough, nowadays you have all kinds of machines that split logs, but that’s not the point here. This only gets more complex if we move from simply splitting wood to carpentry where the haecceity of the raw material, the wood, is of even greater importance. The trees themselves are of high importance, as noted by Deleuze and Guattari (409):

“Doubtless, the operation that consists in following can be carried out in one place: an artisan who planes follows the wood, the fibers of the wood, without changing location. But this way of following is only one particular sequence in a more general process. For artisans are obliged to follow in another way as well, in other words, to go find the wood where it lies, and to find the wood with the right kind of fibers.”

In other words, not all wood is alike. While essentially anything goes for firewood, processing wood starts from inspecting and selecting the trees based on the purposes. Deleuze and Guattari (404-406) also discuss metallurgy and indicate (406) how steel working involves singularities:

“Let us return to the example of the saber, or rather of crucible steel. It implies the actualization of a first singularity, namely, the melting of the iron at high temperature; then a second singularity, the successive decarbonations; corresponding to these singularities are traits of expression – not only the hardness, sharpness, and finish, but also the undulations or designs traced by the crystallization and resulting from the internal structure of the cast steel.”

Make note of the steps involved here, how you go from iron to steel, and then working with the steel to get the desired traits of expression, what it is that you want from the weapon. Following the steel sword example, they (406) immediately contrast it to another weapon:

“The iron sword is associated with entirely different singularities because it is forged and not cast or molded, quenched and not air cooled, produced by the piece and not in number; its traits of expression are necessarily very different because it pierces rather than hews, attacks from the front rather than from the side; even the expressive designs are obtained in an entirely different way, by inlay.”

In summary, the steel sword and the iron sword are different not only by their traits of expression, but also by the singularities involved. Deleuze and Guattari (406) add:

“We may speak of a machinic phylum, or technological lineage, wherever we find a constellation of singularities, prolongable by certain operations, which converge, and make the operations converge, upon one or several assignable traits of expression.

So the steel sword, or more specifically the saber, and the iron sword are not the same machinic phylum, but different phyla as they diverge, as Deleuze and Guattari (406) elaborate:

“If the singularities or operations diverge, in different materials or in the same material, we must distinguish two different phyla: this is precisely the case for the iron sword, descended from the dagger, and the steel saber, descended from the knife.”

Descending from the dagger, the iron sword is a piercing weapon whereas the saber is a hewing weapon. Now, it’s worth pointing out that the saber is, of course, not synonymous with the steel sword, as there are plenty of other blade designs that change its traits of expression. I guess the saber is just a good example as not only is the process of making it different, but it also puts emphasis on the hewing, typical of sabers. The focus on crucible steel is also of particular interest, considering that it seems to have humble origins, but at least in the case of Indian crucible steel (wootz steel), i.e. (true) Damascus, not to be confused with pattern welded (false) Damascus, not only did it look special but it was also particularly hard (due to certain impurities in the ore), giving the blades their enduring cutting edge. The point here being that the wootz blades are known for their traits of expression, hardness and sharpness, which are the result of actualizations of certain singularities.

So, Deleuze and Guattari (406) state:

“Each phylum has its own singularities and operations, its own qualities and traits, which determine the relation of desire to the technical element (the affects the saber ‘has’ are not the same as those of the sword).”

In other words, unlike in hylomorphism, here the matter and the process of how it is formed matter. Moving on from phyla to assemblages, Deleuze and Guattari (407) state that:

“There is indeed a machinic phylum in variation that creates the technical assemblages, whereas the assemblages invent the various phyla. A technological lineage changes significantly according to whether one draws it upon the phylum or inscribes it in the assemblages; but the two are inseparable.”

I already covered assemblages to some extent in previous essays, but here it is noted that assemblages and phyla are distinct, yet inseparable. In relation to singularities, they (406) define an assemblage as:

“[E]very constellation of singularities and traits deducted from the flow—selected, organized, stratified—in such a way as to converge (consistency) artificially and naturally; an assemblage, in this sense, is a veritable invention.”

That does not tell us much, I’m afraid, so they (406) add:

“Assemblages may group themselves into extremely vast constellations constituting ‘cultures,’ or even ‘ages’; within these constellations, the assemblages still differentiate the phyla or the flow, dividing it into so many different phylas, of a given order, on a given level, and introducing selective discontinuities in the ideal continuity of matter-movement. The assemblages cut the phylum up into distinct, differentiated lineages, at the same time as the machinic phylum cuts across them all, taking leave of one to pick up again in another, or making them coexist.”

In summary, assemblages may constitute cultures or ages. To be more specific, they are responsible for how matter is formed, so that it appears to us as such and such. They (407) clarify that there are phylogenic lines, for example from “the blowgun to the cannon”, and ontogenic lines, for example the horseshoe which moves from one assemblage to another and so on.

How does is the discussion of singularities and phyla related to assemblages? Well, that’s a good question. The thing is that for Deleuze and Guattari (22) all they “know are assemblages”, (22) “machinic assemblages of desire and collective assemblages of enunciation” which are (23) “one inside the other and both plugged into an immense outside that is a multiplicity in any case.” They (36) specify that:

“[A]ssemblages have elements (or multiplicities) of several kinds: human, social, and technical machines, organized molar machines; molecular machines with their particles of becoming-inhuman[.]

From here it can be gathered that assemblages are heterogeneous, including bits of this and that, be they whatever, and not only of this, but also of that. So, to be heterogeneous, they contain, for example, not only humans, but also animals and items. Obviously categorizing them that way is not what they are after, but I use those words to point out the heterogeneity here.

I think it’s also worth adding here, to get the point across, that it’s not just about this and/or that, at a certain level, like humans, animals and items. If we think in terms of objects, be they animate or inanimate, they can be of size. That said, it is, perhaps, more apt to not think in that simplistic fashion. Instead, think of yourself in any setting. It’s not just a bit of this and a bit of that, but also everything that’s in between, like, for example, the grass, or moisture in the air, inasmuch at it affects you in some way.

To illustrate the connection between the machinic assemblages and the collective assemblages of enunciation, they (88) state:

“We may draw some general conclusions on the nature of Assemblages[.] … On a first, horizontal, axis, an assemblage comprises two segments, one of content, the other of expression. On the one hand it is a machinic assemblage of bodies, of actions and passions, an intermingling of bodies reacting to one another; on the other hand it is a collective assemblage of enunciation, of acts and statements, of incorporeal transformations attributed to bodies. Then on a vertical axis, the assemblage has both territorial sides, or reterritorialized sides, which stabilize it, and cutting edges of deterritorialization, which carry it away.”

So, in a nutshell, on one hand, you have content, and, on the other hand, you have expression, the two sides of assemblages. In addition, you have what permits change in this arrangement. They (89) provide an example of how this works in practice:

“Taking the feudal assemblage as an example, we would have to consider the interminglings of bodies defining feudalism: the body of the earth and the social body; the body of the overlord, vassal, and serf; the body of the knight and the horse and their new relation to the stirrup; the weapons and tools assuring a symbiosis of bodies – a whole machinic assemblage. We would also have to consider statements, expressions, the juridical regime of heraldry, all of the incorporeal transformations, in particular, oaths and their variables (the oath of obedience, but also the oath of love, etc.): the collective assemblage of enunciation. On the other axis, we would have to consider the feudal territorialities and reterritorializations, and at the same time the line of deterritorialization that carries away both the knight and his mount, statements and acts. We would have to consider how all this combines in the Crusades.”

I guess the example above is only fitting as I keep running into feudalism in my essays. Anyway, the era is marked by all kinds of bodies, including but not limited to people (of varying social status), animals (namely horses) and items (namely machinic phyla – here weapons), which function in relation to one another. In itself, the knight, the horse, the stirrup and the weapon are a machinic assemblage. Someone on a horse is merely someone on a horse, a bit of this on a bit of that, but the stirrup allows the rider to gain better control of the mount, seating the rider for a better or more comfortable use of weapons. I think one should add the saddle in the mix as well. I’m hardly an expert on this (and I have never been on a horse, that I remember anyway), but I believe the saddle and the stirrup do not simply transfer into more force rather than add up to a better balance, helping the rider not fall from the mount and the like. I guess there’s also the added benefit of being able to carry or wear more if it is harder to become dismounted. Anyway, the point about the mounted warrior is that it is not a mere sum of its parts, but rather how they function in relation to one another, enabling something emergent in the assemblage.

The previous example also includes the collective assemblage of enunciation, stating that the feudal assemblage is not explained only by the presence of bits of this and that. It also includes various statements or expressions. That’s what explains the difference between a mounted warrior and a knight. Not everyone with a weapon, on a horse, is a knight. You have to be knighted for that.

To open up the concept a bit, to make more sense of it, enunciation has to do with those statements or expressions, yes, , but it’s also collective, i.e. social, as Deleuze and Guattari (79-80) point out. They (80) indicate that:

“We can no doubt define the collective assemblage as the redundant complex of the act and the statement that necessarily accomplishes it.”

After expressing this, they (80) add that this hardly cuts it as a definition, so they clarify that:

“If we wish to move to a real definition of the collective assemblage, we must ask of what consist these acts immanent to language that are in redundancy with statements or constitute order-words.”

So, what are these acts they speak of? They (80) immediately clarify that:

“These acts seem to be defined as the set of all incorporeal transformations current in a given society and attributed to the bodies of that society.”

First differentiating that an act is not the same thing as a passion, a noncorporeal attribute, nor a mere expression of a statement, they (80-81) use a court room example:

“[T]aking the example of the judge’s sentence that transforms the accused into a convict. In effect, what takes place beforehand (the crime of which someone is accused), and what takes place after (the carrying out of the penalty), are actions-passions affecting bodies (the body of the property, the body of the victim, the body of the convict, the body of the prison); but the transformation of the accused into a convict is a pure instantaneous act or incorporeal attribute that is the expressed of the judge’s sentence.”

In this example they follow Oswald Ducrot’s ‘Dire et ne pas dire: principes de sémantique linguistique’. Simply put, following Ducrot, they argue that a judge transforms the accused into a convict by an incorporeal attribute. Their (81) next example involves the difference between war and peace, how people are instantaneously transformed into soldiers. Stating that we are now at war is sufficient to do that. Skipping a bit here, their fourth example (81) involves hijacking a plane, a situation that typically involves someone a firearm, possible leading to someone being executed, but what is important is “the transformation of the passengers into hostages, and of the plane-body into a prison-body[.]” No one has to get hurt for people to become hostages, be it a highjacking or a bank robbery. The mere expression, along the lines of a this is a highjacking or this is a robbery, is sufficient to instantaneously transform people into hostages. I think it’s worth adding that the machinic side of the assemblage is, of course, also important. People may indeed be affected by the ununciation alone and thus be incorporeally transformed, but the transformation may prove to be short-lived if there isn’t enough firepower to back it up. Related to the other examples (some not covered in this essay), Deleuze and Guattari (82) make note of this:

“The assemblages are in constant variation, are themselves constantly subject to transformations. First, the circumstances must be taken into account: [Émile] Benveniste clearly demonstrates that a performative statement is nothing outside of the circumstances that make it performative. Anybody can shout, ‘I declare a general mobilization,’ but in the absence of an effectuated variable giving that person the right to make such a statement it is an act of peurility or insanity, not an act of enunciation. This is also true of ‘I love you,’ which has neither meaning nor subject nor addressee outside of circumstances that not only give it credibility but make it a veritable assemblage, a power marker, even in the case of an unhappy love (it is still by a will to power that one obeys…).”

So, indeed the circumstances, the relations of the situation relevant bodies are also important. My words have little effect when it comes to a general mobilization. Confessing one’s love is similarly off if not directed to the right person. To further clarify, they (82) add that:

“The general term ‘circumstances’ should not leave the impression that it is a question only of external circumstances. ‘I swear’ is not the same when said in the family, at school, in a love affair, in a secret society, or in court: it is not the same thing, and neither is it the same statement; it is not the same bodily situation, and neither is it the same incorporeal transformation.”

In other words, to summarize things here, it’s not just about what is said by someone to someone else, but it also has to do with spatio-temporal qualities, when and where. So, one has to take the machinic side of things into account as well.

I hope this clarifies the importance of things, alongside language. I hope to expand on this view later on when addressing certain landscape publications, as well as my own work in general.


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