Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Delanda has no account of process. His ontology is excessively, and needlessly, static

Delanda follows Deleuze in insisting that, although an entity is always involved in relations with other entities, "a relation may change without the terms changing" (Delanda 2006, 11, citing Deleuze and Parnet 2002, 55). An entity is never fully defined by its relations; for it is always possible to detach an entity from one particular set of relations, and insert it instead in a different set of relations, with different other entities. Every entity has certain "properties" that are not defined by the set of relations it finds itself in at a given moment; the entity can take these properties with it when it moves from one context (or one set of relations) to another. At the same time, an entity is never devoid of (some sort of) relations: the world is a plenum, indeed it is over-full, and solipsism or atomistic isolation is impossible.
Put differently, no entity can be entirely isolated, because it is always involved in multiple relations of one sort or another, and these relations affect the entity, cause it to change. But this is not to say that the entity is determined by these relations. For the entity has an existence apart from these particular relations, and apart from the other "terms" of the relation, precisely insofar as it is something that is able to affect, and to be affected by, other entities. The entity is not just a function of its present relations, but of a whole history of relations in which it has affected other entities and been affected by them.
DeLanda thus distinguishes between the properties of an entity (which are what it takes with it to another context) and the capacities of that same entity (its potential to affect, and to be affected by, other entities). "These capacities do depend on a component’s properties but cannot be reduced to them since they involve reference to the properties of other interacting entities" (2006, 11). An entity’s capacities are as real as its properties; but we cannot deduce the capacities from the properties; nor can we know (entirely) what these capacities are, aside from how they come into play in particular interactions with other particular entities.
Whitehead’s notion of coherence is largely consistent with Delanda’s account of relations of exteriority. The difference is that Delanda has no account of process, or of how the shift from one set of relations to another actually occurs. His ontology is excessively, and needlessly, static. Whitehead avoids this problem, because he identifies entities with processes, which all at once become and thereby perish. Delanda’s entities correspond, not to Whitehead’s "actual entities," but rather to what Whitehead calls societies. Societies are aggregations of actual entities; these aggregations possess spatial extent and temporal duration, which is what allows them to affect and be affected by other societies. What Delanda calls the innate "properties" of an entity (as distinct from its capacities) would be defined by Whitehead rather as the aggregate of the free (not predetermined) "decisions" made by all the actual entities that constitute the society in question.

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