/ / / / / /Clusters
‘The theoretical and practical struggle against unity-through-domination or unity-through-incorporation’ (Donna Haraway)
I’ve always found Donna Harraway inspiring; ‘The Cyborg Manifesto’ is a revenant essay that just won’t go away. In the section entitled ‘Fractured Identities’ she expands upon the notion of ‘affinity’ and ‘coalition’. The two terms describe the way that diverse entities come together and organise. She gives the example of: ‘witches, engineers, elders, perverts, Christians, mothers, and Leninists’— aggregating together as a protest group. Importantly, the resulting form does not damage the integrity of the individual parts; there is no ‘unity-through-domination or unity-through-incorporation’. The group benefits from the synergy of collectivisation but is not diminished by any totalizing identity. As Harraway says, cyborgs ‘are wary of holism, but needy for connection’.
Negri and Hardt’s concept of ‘multitude’ seems very similar to Haraway’s ‘affinity’. There is a shift of emphasis, a move away from the either/or of ‘identity-difference’, and a new simultaneous focus on commonality AND singularity.
‘The swarms that we see emerging in the new network political organizations, in contrast, are composed of a multitude of different creative agents. This adds several more layers of complexity to the model. The members of the multitude do not have to become the same or renounce their creativity in order to communicate and cooperate with each other. They remain different in terms of race, sex, sexuality, and so forth,’
‘Affinities’ and ‘Multitudes’ present types of organization that lie way beyond the scope of homogeneous wholes. These heterogeneous compounds are constructed from ‘self-subsistent’ parts, their sustaining relationships are external to that of the assemblage and their identity is not a function of the ‘whole’. Surround these elements with a different set of components and an entirely new set of behaviours might emerge. Conversely, totalizing identities tend to rely on ‘relations of interiority’, the individual elements are characterised by their relationship to each other and beyond the bounds the protective umbrella, they cannot survive. Interestingly, the recurring ‘organismic’ metaphor of the body falls into this latter category.
All this talk of multiplicity should go some way to explaining my esoteric comments on various sites. What is the collective noun for a mixed-species group— a bunch, an ecosystem? Does a ‘ready-made’ term already exist, or do I require a neologism? What happens when ‘non-human’ agents are brought into the equation? On paper, anything can interface with anything else. How would you conceptualize a future landscape of networked bio-cultural artefacts— for instance, a crazed assemblage of: dust, phobias, apples, thoughts, type and coffee-grinders? What do you call this cluster of stuff?
To some extent the branding of philosophical ideas is important— every kick-ass theory requires a killer metaphor; iconic images support the transmission of complex thought, ‘The Rhizome’ is a great example. However, it is possible that the search for an effective descriptor may be counter-productive. It could easily turn out to be yet another exercise in ‘unity-through-domination’, the failure to fully jettison my own ‘allegiance to unity’. For now I’ll remain undecided and stick to making connections and mapping relationships.
‘So it’s neither a flock, nor a school, nor a heap, nor a swarm, nor a herd, nor a pack. It is not an aggregate; it is not discrete. It’s a bit viscous perhaps. A lake under the mist, the sea, a white plain, background noise, the murmur of a crowd, time.’ (Michel Serres).