Morphogenesis: Diagrams à la Deleuze and Delanda

READ THIS ESSAY: Manuel DeLanda, “Delanda – Deleuze, Diagrams and the Genesis of Form,” ANY: Architecture New York 23: Diagram Work: Data Mechanics for a Topological Age (June 1998): 30-34.

Here Manuel Delanda rejects the idea of matter as receptacle of form (morphodectic) for that of matter as generator of form (morphogenetic):

Deleuze’s philosophy of matter and form attempts to replace essentialist views of the genesis of form (which imply a conception of matter as an inert receptacle for forms that come from the outside) with one in which matter is already pregnant with morphogenetic capabilities, therefore capable of generating form on its own. (30)

It’s not form as “an ideal geometric form” imposed on matter from the outside, but as “an endogenous topological form,” as in the example of a soap bubble:

[T]here is no question of an essence of “soap-bubbleness” somehow imposing itself from the outside, an ideal geometric form (a sphere) shaping an inert collection of molecules. Rather, an endogenous topological form (a point in the space of energetic possibilities for this molecular assemblage) governs the collective behavior of the individual soap molecules, and results in the emergence of a spherical shape. (ibid.)

Darren Aronofsky, The Fountain (2006)

And “the same topological form . . . can . . . generate many other geometrical forms,” depending on the material (Deleuze calls this “divergent actualization” [Difference and Repetition, 2004, 264]).

A form thus serves as what Deleuze & Guattari call an “abstract machine”:

An abstract machine in itself is not physical or corporeal, any more than it is semiotic; it is diagrammatic (it knows nothing of the distinctions between the artificial and the natural either). It operates by matter, not by substance; by function, not by form. . . . The abstract machine is pure Matter-Function — a diagram independent of the forms and substances, expressions and contents it will distribute. (A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 2004, 156)

I love this idea of forms as diagrams (diagram = “delineation,” from the Greek diagraphein “mark out, delineate”): diagrams are not “visual representations” after the fact (i.e., maps), but rather, emergent “structures” that shape matter (i.e. autopoetic machines — like nanobots). Structurings. Constructions (see Fichte on [self-]construction, if you’re game).

See Deleuze & Guattari again:

[T]he diagrammatic or abstract machine does not function to represent, even something real, but rather constructs a real that is yet to come, a new type of reality. (A Thousand Plateaus, 157)

(This idea of diagrams first comes up in Deleuze’s Foucault [30ff.] — think the panopticon, which, put very simply, is an architectural design, but also not unlike, writ large, Wallerstein’s core-periphery model or, writ small, a wheel or a parachute seed.)

What’s really interesting is the connection Delanda makes between diagrams and the “problems” they exist to solve (or solve to exist):

[F]or Deleuze the problem-solving activity in which diagrams are involved is . . . instantiated in even simple material and energetic systems. To take an example from physics, a population of interacting physical entities, such as molecules, can be constrained energetically to force it to display organized collective behaviour. In other words, it may be constrained to adopt a form which minimizes free energy. Here the “problem” (for the population of entities) is to find this minimal point of energy, a problem solved differently by the molecules in soap bubbles (which collectively minimize surface tension) and by the molecules in crystalline structures (which collective minimize bonding energy). (ibid.)

The Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull

Hence, “the objective existence of problems (and their defining diagrams)”: problems really exist (ibid.).

He concludes:

[T]hinking consists not in problem-solving (as most treatments of diagrams and diagrammatic reasoning suggest) but, on the contrary, that given the real (though virtual) existence of problems in the world itself, true thinking consists in problem-posing, that is, in framing the right problems rather than solving them. It is only through skilful problem-posing that we can begin to think diagrammatically. (34; see Difference and Repetition [76-77] on the heteron, the “being of the problematic”)

Ahhh. “[T]rue thinking consists in problem-posing.” Like.


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